Air Force One requires a bigger suspension of disbelief than most other summer movies, even ones that feature aliens: we're asked to believe that people elected to political office are honourable and really interested in protecting the interests of the people they represent; we're asked to believe that provinces in the former Soviet Union still pose a threat to world peace; and most importantly, we're asked to believe that the President of the United States can, in a situation of conflict, fight like Han Solo from Star Wars.
The plot is simplistic, and would've worked better if the villains weren't based in the former Soviet Union: Air Force One, the official air transportation for the President of the United States, is hijacked by a group of terrorists (it's what the big army calls the little army). The terrorists, lead by Ivan Korshunov (played ruthlessly by Gary Oldman) are loyal to Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), the self-styled dictator of Khazakstan, who was captured by a joint operation of the American and Russian forces. Korshunov's demands, and the eventual outcome of the movie, should be obvious.
Watching this movie, I kept thinking how orthogonal it was to the real world. The movie I saw the week before, Contact, featured clips of Clinton's speeches, illustrating exactly how vague and vapid his words are. Here you have President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) making impromptu speeches that move audiences deeply. Unfortunately, it is the former world that is reality.
What would've made this movie more realistic is if the same situation had occurred but someone else other than the President had saved the plane, held hostage by someone seeking to use its capacity for destruction. But then it would've started to be more like Executive Decision or Die Hard.
I never understand why in movies the villain tries to justify what he's doing to some kid. In this case, Korshunov preaches to the President's daughter (played by Liesel Matthews, who I thought did a good job). The choice of casting Glenn Close also as Vice President Kathryn Bennett works well. The thing is that Harrison Ford is a brilliant actor, one of the best in the business, and his portrayal of a tough-as-nails President is so convincing that it makes the reality stand out like a sore thumb.
While the movie is worth watching/renting, I thought it was a bit too long, and I found the ending escape scene through a wire transfer a bit unnecessary and hokey. They could've delivered parachutes to Air Force One. Also the character on board the plane who aids the terrorists was totally unnecessary and doesn't do much for the movie.
After watching Air Force One, I seriously think Ford should run for President. I can't think of a better campaign ad.