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Air Force One

(1997) *** R
118 min. Sony Pictures Releasing, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International. Director: Wolfgang Petersen. Cast: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews.

/content/films/3431/1.jpgAww, heck. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Air Force One, the unabashedly jingoistic action extravaganza starring Harrison Ford as President James Marshall. David Letterman accurately referred to the character as "The Ass-Kicking President," one in a string of Ford characters to say things like "You just leave my family alone." In addition to the patriotism (with lingering Cold War villainy courtesy of Russian ultranationalist radicals) and family-based heroics (who can argue with those?), screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe and director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, In the Line of Fire) adopt another sure-fire formula: Die Hard...on a plane!

That's right, kids. When madman Ivan Korshunov (acting deity Gary Oldman) seizes the world's most secure plane shortly after takeoff from Moscow, the Commander in Chief refuses to accept a ride in the AF1 escape pod. He has his family to think about: First Lady Grace Marshall (Wendy Crewson) and grade-school-age First Daughter Alice Marshall (Liesel Matthews). In a supreme and convenient irony, Marshall has only just gone off script to emphasize his refusal to negotiate with terrorists. That ethical choice will be sorely tested when Korshunov promises to kill a hostage every half hour until the homophonically named radical General Radek (Jürgen Prochnow) gets his release from a gulag.

Everything about Air Force One is corny beyond belief, but the picture wins anyway with big-budget action and, more importantly, big-budget casting. Ford was still in his action prime here, and he's probably the only man--anteing up from his Jack Ryan thrillers--we'd buy as the Ass-Kicking President: a Vietnam vet and a Medal of Honor winner capable of single-handedly saving himself, his family, and America. And little any other action star can offer can match the delight afforded by Ford's inimitable catalog of wary, scared, determined, and fierce faces as he thinks on his feet and bare-knuckles his way through layers of thugs to the big baddie.

Petersen can also spend big on his supporting cast, and they're worth every penny they charged to help put over this foolishness. Though he could do this role in a coma, Oldman brings dimensionality and palpable menace to a cardboard bad guy, and it's a certifiable hoot seeing William H. Macy as a loyal major toting a machine gun. On the ground, Dean Stockwell, Philip Baker Hall, and a steely Glenn Close anchor the situation-room drama as the Defense Secretary, Attorney General, and Vice President, respectively. By keeping the action (almost) moving faster than the speed of sense, Petersen makes Air Force One well-nigh irresistible popcorn entertainment.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 6/2/2009

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Air Force One looks terrific in its Blu-ray debut. Digital artifacts take a holiday in this fine and film-like transfer. While it doesn't exactly leap off the screen with three-dimensionality, the image gets strong marks for accuracy in film grain, color, contrast, and black level. The robust, action-packed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix completes a presentation that effectively took me back twelve years and plopped me in a theater seat.

This edition doesn't rustle up any new extras, and doesn't include the Theatrical Trailer, but it does maintain the previous edition's sole major bonus feature: a director's commentary by Wolfgang Petersen. Action buffs will appreciate hearing from Petersen, in his heyday, being talked through a consistently interesting conversation about the film's making.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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