The President and his Machine Gun
Harrison Ford now joins the rapidly growing list of actors that have played the President of the United States. Ford usually provides a certain amount of presence to his roles, but here he gives up his chance to show some range. Instead, he settles for spending all of his screen time showing us Ford Expression #1 – that concerned, worried look used on the poster. At no time does he even deign to break loose with Ford Expression #2 (that goofy grin we used to see on Han Solo).
That President Ford phones in his role hardly matters, since the real star of the film is the title aircraft itself, arguably the most famous jet flying today. Director Wolfgang Petersen and company set most of their film in an reasonably accurate copy of the real plane’s interior, with f/x of varying quality doing stunt doubles for the exterior. Ford starts the film off by making a controversial speech setting the USA up as the world’s official police force. Then he immediately has to back up his get tough policy when Gary Oldman (sporting another thick accent in another showy bad guy role) and his gang hijack AF1, holding Ford’s staff and family hostage. After making everyone think he’s taken off in the plane’s “escape pod” (a bit of fancy invented by John Carpenter for Escape from New York), Ford gets down to the familiar Die Hard man-in-a-box business – sneaking around the plane to foil the villains’ plans, blasting away with a machine gun whenever they get too close.
It’s a perversely satisfying scenario played perfectly straight – strange to think that the image of a Chief Executive mowing down creeps with his AK-47 would make him a re-election shoo-in.
Air Force One, like last summer’s Mission: Impossible, is the kind of thriller that puts up such a goofy, entertaining front that you don’t mind so much when they leave in obvious plot malfunctions (such as the fact that the cellular phone Ford uses to call the White House would be out of range 30,000 feet over the Baltic). You can’t criticize popcorn for not being fillet mignon.