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IN SHORT: Superb suspense. A Terrific thriller.
It seems like this month's offerings in the big theaters are doing their best to fill the "best of" lists for their various genres. Add to that list, if not at the top then very close, Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One. That the story idea, the armed hijacking of the President's jet, is far fetched, is irrelevant. The second that you accept the premise and the circumstances of the takeover, everything else in the movie falls into place and you're left with 2 hours or so of seat clutching.
The casting is dream perfect. Harrison Ford is the President (as he will be again if he keeps doing the adaptations of Tom Clancy's books) and Gary Oldman is the terrorist Korshunov (the second in his bad guy hat-trick, which began with this summer's The Fifth Element and will be completed with his portrayal of Dr. Smith in next summer's Lost In Space.) In their own ways, each considers himself to be a patriot. But we know who the good guy is, right?
After a commando team extricates (read: kidnaps) the fascist tyrant General Radek (Jurgen Prochnow) from his heavily guarded palace in Kazakhstan, a similar team of patriots (read: terrorists) boards Air Force One (read: murders and pay offs) and takes command once the plane is in flight. Their objective is to swap The President for the freedom of their General. They get the plane, but an escape pod containing the President is jettisoned, leaving little bargaining power.
Except that the President's family is on board the jet.
And so is the President.
From that point on, it's one unarmed man against six armed men in bulletproof vests. It's a battle of quick wits and high tech thinking on the plane. It's a political battle back in Washington DC, as Vice President Bennett (admirably portrayed by Glenn Close) holds the government together; Secretary of Defense Stanton Dean (Dean Stockwell) would invoke the Constitution to claim the Oval Office, and members of the Cabinet would invoke a different clause to turn the government over to her. It's a very tempting proposition and one which could doom the First Family to a certain death.
Director Wolfgang Petersen, whose previous work includes some of Cranky's favorite flicks (Das Boot, In the Line of Fire and The Neverending Story) knows how to build suspense. He knows how to build the emotional story underneath the action. He slips only by not revealing why. . .
. . .Nope, Cranky can't tell you 'cuz it would lead to giving a vital plot point away. It's a character development issue. Suffice it so say that the criticism is so minor that it didn't strike me until the next day. But if you think you know what it is, e-mail me and I'll let you know if you're right.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Air Force One, he would have paid...
A really good guy. A really bad guy. Both with well developed reasons for their action. A performance by Glenn Close that will have you believing that a female Vice President is not impossible. Political battles on the ground -- and I didn't even get to CNN spilling the beans live on TV -- physical battles in the air. A great flick.
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