this week's stories

Attempted Republican Coup: Ready, Aim, Misfire

Air Force One: On the Real Thing, No Pods And No Parachutes

The Ultimate Hijack

Campaign Fundraising Hearings: Connect The Dots

Cohen Gets One Right

Camp For Show, Putt For Dough


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The Ultimate Hijack

It's the President vs. terrorists in Air Force One, which features good, claustrophobic suspense

By Richard Schickel ford

(TIME, July 28) -- Well, finally--the president we deserve, a morally square peg in the Oval Office, a man whose primary emotional color is true blue. James Marshall is the kind of guy who stands up boldly to international thuggery as well as to temporizers on his own staff. He has a nice sense of humor, a good marriage and a daughter who mirrors his virtues. He is also, as it turns out, physically brave and uncannily resourceful under life-threatening pressure. And he looks a lot like the reliably doughty Harrison Ford.

"Air Force One" Movie Trailers

Partial trailer: 1.4MB/36 sec. QuickTime movie

Full trailer: 5.5MB/2:18 QuickTime movie

This fantasy--that such an exemplary figure could actually get elected in modern America--is actually wilder than the story Air Force One is telling. It concerns demented terrorists who somehow insinuate themselves onto the presidential plane and take the Chief Executive and everyone else aboard hostage. Their offer is lives for a life--specifically that of a genocidal tyrant named General Radek, president of a breakaway Russian republic now being held in a Moscow jail.

Since the American President conspired with his Russian counterpart to abduct the general, there is a certain loopy plausibility to the premise. And since their leader, Korshunov, is played by Gary Oldman, an actor who can go from purring self-pity to coldly homicidal rage in about 10 frames of film, these terrorists are truly terrifying--especially when the psychopath in chief has a gun to the head of the First Lady (Wendy Crewson) or the First Child (Liesel Matthews).

Being quite a provincial foreigner, however, he does not reckon with the power of American pragmatism. Having eluded the invaders, the President (who, we are informed, won a Congressional Medal of Honor piloting a rescue chopper in Vietnam) is stalking the surprisingly capacious byways of the plane, armed mainly with native wit and a "Don't tread on me" philosophy. There is good--sometimes witty--suspense in Marshall's single-handed efforts to coordinate a rescue effort by his Washington staff with his own attempts to set his people free using whatever modest tools--a table knife, a cell phone, a fax machine--come to hand.

One wishes, indeed, that the movie--written by Andrew W. Marlowe and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who knows his way around both tight spaces (Das Boot) and the more suspenseful aspects of presidential life (In the Line of Fire)--had retained its claustrophobic intimacy to the end. This, however, would have required its makers to forswear a new Hollywood habit of mind, which dictates that no big-time action film can conclude without an orgy of special effects. As Air Force One climaxes, a lot of people fly through thin air on thin wires. Too bad. The stalking struggle between reason and unreason that precedes it is much more gripping--and fun.

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