Aloft Cause

Overblown Air Force One never gets off the ground

Perhaps the greatest disappointment about Air Force One is how reined in Oldman is. Since he's a Russian terrorist, one might reasonably expect him to be over-the-top-of-the-top, but his ham quotient is alarmingly low. Apparently, we're meant to regard Korshunov as a Worthy Adversary to the President. We're even supposed to feel this lunatic's pain when he bemoans the loss of his beloved Mother Russia to "gangsters and prostitutes."

But it's not necessary for us to feel Korshunov's pain. We want the kick of his dementia, his sleaze. When he tells Marshall's daughter that her father is just as much a murderer as he is, he's not nearly as entertaining as when he asks the vice president--Glenn Close at her most imperially ponderous--if her blouse is wet. One way or another, a good movie villain should always make the heroine moist.

The implication in Air Force One is that terrorism is a foreign-borne virus. If you want to get deep-dish about it, you could even argue that the film alleviates our helplessness in the face of the Timothy McVeighs and the Ted Kaczynskis by refashioning them as funny-accented Reds. But even if Air Force One were better, I don't think it could escape a basic problem: Like it or not, we can't go back to the old true-blue movie days when America stands tall against the Commies. It's too antique, too camp. And when filmmakers try to straight-facedly assume that posture, they just seem foolish. (Mess that it was, at least The Saint had the sense to play its neo-Commie stuff for black comedy.)

The end of the Cold War has had a chilling effect on Hollywood. With the Russkies out of the way, the studios have been flailing about trying to come up with a reasonable facsimile. But the PC police are everywhere: The Arabs didn't work out; neither did the Chinese. Space aliens are back in a big way, but they're otherworldly. So it's back to the Commies--and the return engagement is kind of embarrassing. Is Hollywood so lacking in ideas that it can't even come up with new people to hate?

Air Force One
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; with Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close and William H. Macy.


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