I think it’s a requirement for every American action star that they must have at least two movies on their resume that is their “Die Hard.” Harrison Ford happens to have one that’s pretty good, even if it’s about as jingoistic as John Wayne punching a Mexican bandit while talking about Baseball. “Air Force One” is one of the stronger vehicles for Harrison Ford, where he plays James Marshall, an ex-Vietnam soldier with a military background, who is president of the US. He is pushed in to a conflict involving a Russian dictator who is threatening to start a new Cold War, and said dictator has a host of loyal followers that want him freed. As a means of leveraging the release of their dictator, a group of Russian terrorists disguise themselves as American journalists and board Air Force One.
While there, they stage a violent take over, planning to use President Marshall as a trade off for their comrade (Jurgen Prochnow) who is being held prisoner. Thanks to a mole (the always stellar Xander Berkeley) within the president‘s entourage, they garner fire arms, and attempt to seize the quick thinking president, who escapes through a pod. At the last minute he decides to stay on board and perhaps save his friends and family, all the while trying to maintain the US’s hold of the Russian prisoner which could trigger a terrible terrorist event. The twist being that the Russians are certain he escaped the pod, giving Marshall the advantage of the element of surprise, but has to work extra fast as the anxious kidnapers will do anything to get what they want.
With his stressed cabinet looking for ways to bring their colleagues home, they begin arguing about bending to their demands, and Marshall must look for a means of communicating with them to assure they stand their ground. Director Wolfgang Peterson delivers a very tense and exciting thriller, where Ford is quite convincing as a dashing and strong opponent for the armed terrorists on board his plane. Peterson keeps the events moving at a quick pace, as the terrorists begin offing random passengers to force Marshall’s cabinet in to a corner. All the while President Marshall spends most of the movie evading the armed guards, anxiously looking for a way to sneak up on them and gain the upper hand.
“Air Force One” is a fun riff on “Die Hard” taking the whole formula to a higher level. Ford delivers a very strong performance as the noble commander in chief who is also self sacrificing when it seems like Oldman’s villainous terrorist might gain the upper hand. Ford brings with him a rather large supporting cast, including William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Glenn Close, Xander Berkeley, and Gary Oldman, who is very good as resident Russian terrorist Ivan Korshunov. Despite Ford’s lackluster output later in his career, he can still trot out some entertaining action thrillers. “Air Force One” is a fun reminder that Ford is every bit as good an action star as he is a dramatic one.