I must have seen this somehow on TV. Caught it again this week on Hulu. My impression has not changed. It’s Air Force One from 1997 from Touchstone Pictures and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.
Opening scenes show combined American and Russian special forces parachuting into what is presumably Astana, capitol of Kazakhstan. They land on the presidential palace, shoot a bunch of people, and take Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the Kazakhstan dictator, prisoner. He’s been a bad boy, and these two pillars of democracy intend to lock him up for life.
President Marshall makes an impassioned speech in Moscow, proclaiming essentially sic simper tyrannis. This doesn’t sit well with Radek fans, especially some militants in Russia. They are first seen infiltrating the passenger list on Air Force One as it prepares to depart Moscow. You can tell they are up to no good, because they are supposed to be journalists, but they all look like battle-hardened special forces troops in disguise. For unknown reasons, they are able to penetrate the extreme security of the passenger list. Their leader is Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman).
After the plane takes off the perfidy is made clear. The head of the President’s Secret Service detail, Gibbs (Xander Berkeley), is in on the deal, and he probably engineered the infiltration. He quickly guns down the other three Secret Service agents aboard, a signal for Korshunov’s men to go into action. They seize weapons previously concealed on the plane, kill a bunch of people, and complete the takeover.
Glenn Close is Vice President Kathryn Bennett. Imagine that. A woman Vice President. Who would have thought? Anyhow, she is a take-charge lady and runs the operation from Washington to unravel the plot. What the plotters want is for Radek to be released from prison, or they will kill one hostage every 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the President has escaped from Air Force One by way of an escape pod. At least that is what the plotters and also those in Washington believe. Turns out, President Marshall sent out an empty pod and remained behind, concealed at various places withing the huge aircraft. He finds a phone among stored luggage and calls home. A plan is hatched to foil the plot.
In the meantime hostages are killed.
Surprise! The plane has an escape chute and parachutes for all or most on the plane. That gets activated and a passel of civilians and others drop into the night sky, somewhere over Eastern Europe. It’s one of several loopy plot devices in this production.
But not the President’s wife and daughter. Korshunov attempts to make his escape out the back way, but this scheme is foiled by the President, a former combat pilot and Medal of Honor recipient. President Marshall loops a length of nylon webbing around Korshunov’s throat and pulls the release on his parachute, presumably breaking his neck as he exits the plane.
Meanwhile, Russian President Petrov (Alan Woolf) has engineered a get-out-of-jail card for Radek in order to purchase time in negotiations with the plotters. As Radek is about to taste freedom the Russians execute him at the prison gate.
Now comes the most loopy part of all. The plane is doomed, shot up by Radek loyalist jet fighters. It cannot land. Survivors must be rescued by connecting a zip line between the 747 and a C-130. Here the President’s wife, Grace Marshall (Wendy Crewson), makes it to safety at the receiving end.
That leaves the President, the perfidious Gibbs, and two others aboard the plane. Gibbs shoots the two others, revealing for the first time his part in the plot, as Marshall arranges the transfer to the C-130. Marshall gains the upper hand and snags the zip line, which end becomes separated from Air Force One. Marshall is hauled aboard the C-130, leaving Mr. Congeniality to die alone aboard the doomed plane. Ultimate karma. Everybody celebrates.
Yeah, this is bad. A beautiful production, well-photographed and reasonably acted. Enormous special effects and such, but there are just too many loopy ideas foisted on the audience to allow this one to pass.
Secret Service leader turned coat? Not likely.
A crew of Russian special forces allowed through security without arousing suspicion? Hard to believe.
Hundreds of rounds fired inside a pressurized plane without opening the cabin up like a sieve? No way.
An escape pod for the President? No.
Over two dozen civilians dropping into the night over rough terrain and more than a couple of survivors? Give me a break.
Air Force One has an escape chute with parachutes for all on board? That will be news to a bunch of people.
Escaping by zip line to another plane? Something is being stretched here, and it’s not the zip line.
I could have written this script. It would not have had all this bizarre and unbelievable shit, and it would still have been interesting and suspenseful. Script writers can get away with this kind of thing if the theme is science fiction. Compare this with Independence Day, which came out the year before. Is it possible there was some theme migration?