Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Executive Decision

"Executive Decision" (Stuart Baird, 1996) Good "bottled" actioner on many fronts: one of the better pre-911 films that used terrorist hijacking as a plot-point, superstar editor Stuart Baird's best film as a director, and probably the best movie Steven Seagal ever appeared in.  It's also a tense film with a superb cast that will keep you on tenderhooks until the last moment.

A Boeing 747 domestic airliner is hijacked from Europe, heading for the U.S.  Intel expert Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell) suspects a powerful chemical agent is on-board that the terrorists will slam into a major city, wiping out its population.  Special Forces Lt. Colonel Austin Travis (Seagal) has been burned on Grant's reports before, and insists that he accompany his team of wet-ops (Joe Morton, John Leguiziamo, B.D. Wong) on a mission to take back the airplane and take out the terrorists (led by David Suchet, whose baleful expressions betray none of the glint he brings to Agatha Christie's Poirot).

It may be the best decision he never wanted to make.  Grant may be a fish out of water in the field, but as a beginning flying student, he at least has some core competency in the simultaneously wide open spaces and cramped environs of an airplane.  Still, the mission's going to be tough to do in-flight.  But, a prototype stealth-plane with collar could be sent up to rendezvous with the 747 unseen, allowing the team to slip on-board undetected...that is, according to its "blue-sky" engineer Dennis Cahill (Oliver Platt).  There is no other choice but to take a flyer and make the attempt.  But, of course, complications arise, not the least of which are the buffeting forces that aren't antcipated when the tiny "Remora" shuttle is attached to the gargantuan air-ship. 

The hectic transfer creates an untenable situation for the ops team: one of their experts is critically injured, the command position must be filled by Grant and Cahill (who were never supposed to be on the hi-jacked plane), and their communication gear is compromised so they ahve no way of relaying information back to Washington, who are on a parallel course to track, and possibly, shoot down the plane before it enters U.S. air-space.  The Special Forces are therefore forced to move forward with their plans, operating in a communications blackout, and in the dim confines of the 747's infrastructure, in order to save the plane and their own lives.   With help from one particularly plucky air hostess (Halle Berry—the hysterical Marla Maples Trump is no help at all*) the team must first identify the hi-jackers, secure the nerve gas, dodge the fighters, and get the plane down safely.

Even before the events of 9/11 (or even because of them), it's a smart, interesting, tense little film that sets up an impossible mission, and throws as many complicating hurdles at the SF crew before it can be resolved.  It's a disaster movie, so things go disasterously, the stakes rising as the plane edges towards the East Coast.  Russell (who's always a welcome presence in a film) makes for a believable "only-book-smart" field-man, effectively giving audience-intel through the "what the hell" panic behind his spectacles, and the superb supporting cast all create characters you care about and root for.  A great combination of tense action with good, no-nonsense writing that never cuts the audience or the movie any slack.

* "You're fired, honey..."

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