There’s a category of movies that were well liked at the time of release but in later years became an easy target of ridicule. Batman Forever, The Rock and Top Gun are some that did really well at the box office but you wouldn’t dare be seen with them in public these days. Air Force One belongs in there too. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that will openly admit to genuinely liking that film (as opposed to the ironic hipster type way). It’s an odd path for a film to take so I decided to check out the Force again to see if it really deserves all the scorn.
And unfortunately I have to report back that this One mostly does deserve all the shit slung at it in the past ten years. I don’t know what the rest of the world’s reasons are but here’s my takeaway. I’m totally down with the idea of terrorists hijacking the President’s plane thereby kidnapping the President (Harrison Ford (American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and theTemple of Doom)), his wife, daughter and most of his cabinet who are all on board. I’m down with the casting choices. I’m down with the cinematography. I especially like how it’s totally chaotic when the Russian bad guys first grab the guns and try to gain control of the aircraft. It’s cool that they have to fight for it and prove their worth to the audience instead of everything going off without a hitch. There are a number of good aspects to this picture. I even think having a woman Vice President (Glenn Close (The Big Chill, Mary Reilly) is a nice choice, although the way they reveal her in a semi-dramatic fashion meant to make you clutch your pearls is a stupid indication of the time in which this was made.
All of that aside, what gets to me is the excessive dick sucking of the U.S. and the presidency. It’s truly kinda disturbing how much the filmmakers marvel American resolve, willingness to overcome and, above all, how strong our leaders are. I mean the President is an all out action hero here. He’s John fuckin’ McClane with the sneaking around, tricky maneuvers and brawling. The leader of the free world murders four people in this movie (and one unconfirmed kill) which is kinda nuts if you think about it. The filmmakers had a fantasy that the Prez could go mano a mano with Russian terrorists and fight ‘em all off almost single handedly, and they made it a reality.
Also, pretty much all of the dialogue is terrible. But the infamous “get off my plane!” line is so fucking lame I can’t be mad at it. A final one liner that weak is kinda precious.
But here’s the thing for me. This was just one in a slew of Die Hard rip offs that came out post ‘88. It isn’t one of the better ones like SuddenDeath or Under Siege, but the concept is a great one and I appreciate the absurd level they take it to here.
Moreover I’m into the flood of 90’s pictures that used the American political system as a backdrop for a thriller/action film: Murder at 1600, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Enemy of the State, In the Line of Fire, Absolute Power, etc. Plus there were the dramedies: Dave, The American President, Bulworth, Wag the Dog, etc. Not that all of these are good but I like the ideas they present. And almost every one of them had something in common which was that America could survive any goddamn premise Hollywood could throw at it. The country and the political system prevailed to stand above all others.
It’s a fascinating era for this specific type of film because of how naïve and mindlessly steadfast they all are. After 9/11, the never ending wars in the Middle East and the rise of the internet where people could dive as deep as they wanted into any political subject, you don’t see such rosy images of the U.S. being presented on screen anymore. Hollywood does what they’ve always done by trying to keep up with the times and giving a more complicated perspective on political matters. But in the 90’s the good ol’ USA was number one, always. You could find a murdered gal in the white house bathroom, the President could suffer a stroke and a lookalike could do a better job than the real deal, Russia could be trying to get one up on us for the millionth time but we saw through all of these scenarios. Hell, the President’s plane could be stolen in mid-air by some assholes but by the time the dust settles it’s guaranteed that America will come out on top.
Anyone who grew up after the 90’s and watches these movies must think we all had our heads up our asses. The thing is they wouldn’t be wrong. On film we kinda really were living in a fantasy world when it came to American politics. That’s why it’s hard for me to hate Air Force One. It’s an artifact of its time that gives you an interesting glimpse into the mindset of the 1997 American movie going public.
With all of that said I do not recommend this picture. It’s actually pretty entertaining with the tension kept sky high most of the time (man, I have been on a roll lately with these very shitty puns) and it hits all the notes you expect from a big summer popcorn blockbuster. But it’s also nothing you haven’t seen before nor does it improve upon anything in the past. It’s a fairly dumb film.
I’d say check out Passenger57 if you’re looking for a Die Hard knock off that takes place on a plane and/or Executive Decision, which in addition to being Die Hard-esque on a plane also has a strong political angle. It isn’t great but it’s better than Air Force One.