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Cast and suspense keeps Air Force One alive

Air Force One

"Get off my plane!" Well, of course, if you have seen the preview you know that this line is one of those "finale" lines. You know, one of those lines that the character says just before he kills a bad guy. In fact, this film is mostly predictable, but when it isn't, it's quite suspenseful. Those suspenseful moments are truly tense, and the predictability is helped by the terrific cast. Unfortunately, the cast is not able to cover the technical details of the film which are very noticeable and very distracting.

The film stars Harrison Ford as the President of the United States. I really did believe him as the President because my friends have all discussed it, and we believe that if Ford ran for that government office, we would vote for him. Air Force One opens with an action sequence, as most action films tend to do, but this one relates to the main plot because the Americans are capturing a Russian terrorist leader. We then see President James Marshall (Ford) giving a speech about anti-terrorism. Instead of reading the speech prepared for him, he reads his own, making statements that the United States will no longer negotiate with terrorists. This creates one of the film's highlights because it creates a dilemma that will have to be fought out, both in the air and on the ground.

As you may know, a group of Russian terrorists don't exactly appreciate their leader being caught, so they plan to get revenge on the President. Led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), they cleverly get onto the President's plane, Air Force One. Press Secretary Melanie Mitchel (Donna Bullock) greets them and shows them around the plane, giving them (as well as us) the background of the plane. One of the many things that action films seem to want the audience to believe is that the hijacking seems impossible to do. But, they manage to do it, rather realistically and shockingly. As the terrorists shoot people, the President is rushed down to an escape pod, and I reveal nothing by saying that he never leaves the plane. He hides, and uses the element of surprise to knock off the terrorists, one by one.

Unfortunately, the events that follow will not come as a surprise to anyone watching the film. However, the direction of the film by Wolfgang Peterson provides some very tense moments, and one plain scary moment. This suspense doesn't last throughout the film because while watching the film, I always knew what was going to happen. And to top it off, the film steals liberally from other action films, such as Turbulence, and especially Cliffhanger. Whenever a movie steals from another, normally I would forget about it, but during this film, I couldn't help but sense that the writer Andrew W. Marlowe couldn't come up with an original idea, so he stole from films to finish his. Another thing that the writer does is give dumb dialogue to the terrorists. One thing Marlowe did do well is add an element regarding one of the characters which provides something that I really liked: through the entire film, the audience knew one of the characters was a traitor, but the other characters had no idea.

While Air Force One may be quite well done, the scenes down on the ground are cliched and very unoriginal. The only thing these scenes are there for is to tell the viewers exactly what we just watched. It's rather insulting, but the power of the cast makes it worth watching. Glenn Close is phenomenal as Vice President Katherine Bennett. Close makes these scenes bearable, and Dean Stockwell gives a nice performance of his own. However, some of the tension is released during these slow moments, even though we are supposed to be in suspense about what will happen on the ground. And some of the supposedly suspenseful moments involving the release of the terrorist leader are too cliched for us to really care. "Suspense" and "cliche." These two words never go together well, but they describe Air Force One accurately. So did I like the film? I had mixed feelings, but in the end, I felt it was good entertainment for the two hours it ran.

Warning: The next paragraph contains some spoilers, so skip this paragraph unless you have seen the film. The biggest problem I had with the film, besides the plot, was the technical problems, mainly the special effects. The special effects of Air Force One are normally quite well done, but some of them are so horrible, I couldn't believe that Peterson would have settled with the effects. Cinesite, a competing FX company with the biggest and best, ILM, are capable of creating several nice effects, but the transfer from one plane to the other were almost laughably bad, and the crash of Air Force One is so horribly done, that I laughed more than I cheered. The effect is completely computerized and should not have been included in the film. It was like I was watching a computer game with slightly better graphics.

The cast is extremely capable of overcoming most of the flaws of the film. Ford is incredible and very believeable as the President. His average guy personality makes him a very credible President, and his family life reminds us of Bill Clinton's. But unlike Clinton, Ford seems down to earth and friendly. Glenn Close is very good as the Vice President, and she almost steals the film from Ford. Gary Oldman is terrific as usual, and it's nice to see him underplaying instead of his usual overacting. Wendy Crewson gives a very nice performance as the First Lady. And Liesel Matthews is very good as the President's daughter. For me, William H. Macy (Fargo) gives one of the best performances of the film and I was delighted to see him as a good guy. And Donna Bullock provides one of the film's most shocking and tense moments of the film.

Air Force One is rated R for violence, some gore, language, and some very mean-spirited acts. This is definitely not for kids, warranting the R rating. The direction is well done, but the writing could have used some work, and the special effects needed an overhaul. The film is entertaining for its run, but it will be forgotten after the summer, and possibly even before the summer season ends. This is one of Ford's lesser films, but the performances balance the pros from the cons, and slightly leans them towards the pros for the three star review. My suggestion is try to catch this at a matinee price, or wait for it to arrive at the cheaper theaters.

**1/2 out of ****
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