Welcome to “Air Force One.” It’s a terrifically entertaining ride, but, before take-off, please be sure your seat belt is fastened and your desire for logic is stowed in the overhead compartment.
The plot couldn’t be simpler: Russian terrorists hijack Air Force One with the president, his wife and daughter on board, and while bureaucrats in Washington negotiate with the terrorists, the president prepares to kick some Russkie butt. Simplicity is the key to “Air Force One’s” appeal, along with an old-fashioned, rah-rah Americanness: This is a leader (Harrison Ford, sporting the worst presidential hair since Herbert Hoover) who announces a major policy decision “because it’s the right thing to do,” not because a pollster said three out of five Americans favored it.
Ford’s eloquent, emotional performance makes clear that President James Marshall is as much a family man as a president, and his compelling dilemma could be summed up by the famous E.M. Forster quote, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
Soon enough, the president finds himself having to choose between the country’s best interests and his family’s (the first lady is played by Wendy Crewson and the first daughter is Liesel Matthews, the terrific kid from “A Little Princess”). Watching Ford falter his way to a decision makes him an unmistakably human president.
Humanity has been in short supply in this summer’s movies, but there’s plenty of it here. Once again, director Wolfgang Petersen - whose best film, “Das Boot,” took a sympathetic look at America’s World War II enemy - demonstrates “villains” are much more interesting when we make an effort to understand them. As the head terrorist, Gary Oldman is no cartoon monster. He believes passionately in his cause, and the fact that we understand his goals - and disagree with his methods - makes the conflict with Ford that much more involving.
It’s a good thing, too, because “Air Force One” asks us to swallow a lot. In addition to the whopper hijacking scenario, you’ll have to sit tight through some over-the-top heroics near the end and a little too much in-the-face-of-battle bravado. But that’s minor stuff - all in all, “Air Force One” is what was beginning to seem like an impossibility this summer: an action movie with brains and a heart.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Air Force One” Locations: Newport, East Sprague, Post Falls and Showboat Credits: Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson. Rating: R Running time: 1:58