“Get off my plane!”
Harrison Ford in “Air Force One”
For many viewers, that legendary line defines “Air Force One,” the 1997 action hit that became another feather in the resume of Harrison Ford. Being presented by Showtime on Tuesday, March 30, the Wolfgang Petersen- directed adventure presents Ford as the kind of president Americans need in a time of duress.
And Ford’s President James Marshall certainly knows from duress: The military veteran’s official airplane is commandeered by terrorists posing as a news crew (great security procedures there) to mastermind a comrade’s release from prison, with Gary Oldman as a thoroughly convincing leader of the bad guys. His rage is palpable when he’s made to believe the president has left the plane via an escape pod (the real Air Force One reportedly doesn’t have one), but in fact, Marshall is hiding in the aircraft’s belly, improvising a counterattack as he goes.
Our stalwart if vulnerable hero has good reason for conquering the invading enemies, since their hostages include his wife and daughter (Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews). Also among the captives are various members of the president’s staff, some represented by such fine actors as William H. Macy and Paul Guilfoyle … but there’s also a traitor among them who’s secretly in cahoots with the terrorists.
While the battle aboard Air Force One is unfolding in the air, the vice president — played by Glenn Close (sorry, Kamala Harris, she got there first) — is trying to help as much as she can from the ground. She has to withstand cabinet members who want the president’s power rescinded under the circumstances, with Dean Stockwell as an especially zealous official who warns Close that history will remember her for what she does. Or doesn’t do.
A typically excellent Jerry Goldsmith score captures the majesty of the presidential office as well as the heroism displayed in the situation, and not surprisingly, terrific aerial stunts also are part of the recipe here. Those go right up to the final scene, with a midair transfer the only way to save those aboard Air Force One, rapidly losing altitude as a result of all that has transpired. (In real life, Ford has gained added fame for being a pilot himself.)
For a number of years, a Harrison Ford movie opening in late summer was deemed as sure a bet at the box office as there was, given his wide audience draw. “Air Force One” was one of those attractions, and not only did it meet expectations then, it has endured since as a first-rate example of its genre. Almost 25 years later, it still flies very high.