Friday, March 25, 2011

Executive Decision, the Salieri of Action Films

Terrible poster, terrible tagline.
1996's "Executive Decision" is an obvious attempt to ride off of Tom Clancy's "Jack Ryan" novels. The pitch: a plane to D.C. is hijacked, and they demand a terrorist's release. Can US Spec Ops save the passengers before the Air Force shoots them down?

Since this is Clancy-inspired ("Clear and Present Danger" came out in '94), that plot isn't enough; there's a sinister secret - nerve gas got thru the check-in somehow, part of a plan to decimate the Capitol. The US special forces not only has to search for the bomb and stop the terrorists - they'll doing it by sneaking onboard in mid-flight!

The always-great Kurt Russell is our lead - he's usually an everyman, but he's set up to be successful and smart, like Jack Ryan. He's backed up by Steven Seagal, John Lequizamo, Halle Berry, and Oliver Platt. The result is a throwback to Golan/Globus pictures that's easy enough to appreciate, I guess. I don't recommend this, as it's largely mediocre (with one sublime moment).

This is a lot like "The Delta Force," "SWAT," et al - an intense fight between starkly vile baddies and a team of soldiers/cops. This time out, the presence of Russell's earnest but "not a tough guy" do-gooder fits it right into the Clancy books.

In fact, it's way too much like other things for me to take this seriously. My early reaction was that it was a retread of Golan-Globus pictures - the subdivision of Cannon Films that actually made "The Delta Force."

"Executive Decision" also begins with a special forces raid on a villains' nest. "Delta" also has the hijacking of an international flight en route to the States, as well as a US commando team sent to sort things out. Terrorists in both are Middle-Eastern. This is the first half of the action-movie mash-up...

Then you add the presence of political maneuverings, members of the Presidential Cabinet, and an earnest, capable good-guy who doesn't use his fists or guns much. Hell, Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst who was briefly in the Marines via NROTC, and has a doctorate from Georgetown. Kurt Russell's Dr. David Grant is a Naval Academy grad who works for Army Intelligence. Maybe they could've just called this "Patriot Force Fears?" No wait, "The Sum of All Octobers."

If you actually find yourself enjoying the flick, you're not alone - it got 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's not awful, or even an actively bad movie. It's well-filmed, the action is fine, and the writing gets the job done without being embarrassing. The real saving grace is the solid cast.

I won't spoil things by saying that we end up with a bunch of good guys on the airliner, trying to stop the terrorists. The casting director did a good job of putting together an actual team - BD Wong (from "Oz"), Leguizamo, and Joe "Skynet" Morton, among others. They play very well together, and add lots of credibility and character to roles that are usually thin as tissue paper.

Still, of all of the supporting parts, Leguizamo gets the most to do. He doesn't look like an action guy, but he does at least a decent job. Platt makes a small appearance so he can be kinda-charming, expository, and get laughs. Berry, sadly, is stuck in another movie that critically under-uses its actresses.

"Executive Decision" is watchable, with one (bat@#$% crazy) idea, saddled with a ton of derivative aspects. I hope Kurt Russell did well from choosing this project, but I'd like to see him in more rewarding material. Despite the "sublime moment," you shouldn't watch this either. There are hundreds of better options available.

However, it is available on Netflix Streaming, so you can watch it if you choose. My favorite bit is around the 43:30 mark - it's so much fun that it almost makes this a "guilty pleasure." No really, we once turned on HBO to find the scene had already passed, and I didn't feel disappointed. I turned to my big bro, smiling, and said "I'm just happy knowing that moment exists." Then we watched something else.

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