Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The sequel to blatant Die Hard knockoff Olympus Has Fallen hits theaters Friday, so let’s look back on some other Die Hard knockoffs, all of them much better than Olympus Has Fallen.
A jingoistic fantasy marked by Harrison Ford’s best post-Indiana Jones action performance, Air Force One ups the Die Hard ante by making its one-against-many-terrorists hero the commander in chief. In Wolfgang Petersen’s rah-rah saga, President James Marshall (Ford) tells the world that America is done negotiating with terrorists, and is now re-committing itself to fighting injustice around the world. No sooner has he made that proclamation, however, than Air Force One is hijacked—with him and his wife (Wendy Crewson) and daughter (Liesel Matthews) aboard—by Kazakhstan villains led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), whose aim is to secure the release of their homeland’s captured leader (Jürgen Prochnow). Refusing to depart the aircraft via an escape pod, Marshall instead embarks on a cat-and-mouse mission to thwart Korshunov and his band of gun-toting comrades, whose hatred of capitalism is almost as strong as their cartoonish Eastern European accents are thick.
Petersen spends his story’s opening half-hour establishing the righteous nobility and everyman likability of Marshall, who when not espousing his staunch belief in America’s moral duty to combat evil is goofing around with his little girl and trying to watch a recording of a recent college football game. Those initial passages do much to endear us to Marshall, and thus to amplify the material’s suspense once the president is forced to face a number of lethal on-board obstacles—all while his vice president (Glenn Close) and defense secretary (Dean Stockwell) squabble back in Washington about the best course of action given these perilous geopolitical circumstances.
Oldman’s post-Soviet-bloc baddie spits and screams and threatens with insane-eyed glee, and the actor’s caricatured turn is so hammy that it proves a fitting over-the-top counterpoint to Ford’s ass-kicking prez, whose virtuousness is matched by his aptitude with a machine gun. Petersen’s muscular direction helps sell even the tale’s most absurd twists (including a late, preposterous rope-between-two-planes plan), though it’s Ford’s embodiment of stalwart bravery—and his signature “Get off my plane!” kiss-off line—that makes Air Force One the best of Die Hard’s many progeny.
Availability: Air Force One is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.