Middle Eastern Terrorists take over an airplane and intend to crash it in the US, spreading biological weapons (nerve gas) across the whole east coast. Note that a lot of what is shown in these clips is confusing, perhaps deliberately so. The scene is dark, there is shouting (in Arabic and other languages), and no subtitles or explanations are given. Are they trying to give us the impression that Arabic isn't really used for communication, or just to instill fear in us?
Hijackers make their move to take over the plane, with lots of shouting.
Heart attack city! So, is your adrenaline a little low? Suffer from low blood pressure? Have I got a cure for you: EXECUTIVE DECISION. Since Steven Seagal is on the marquee, you figure, hey, this has got to be another Steven Seagal action film, right? Wrong. Steven Seagal has basically a cameo role and disappears early on, never to be seen again. Moreover, you even guessed the wrong genre; this is a thriller. Although there is action, most of the movie's time and tension is spent in mental anguish with lots of sweaty brows as the time for disaster approaches. How will they figure a way to pull it out?
The show starts with an unsuccessful covert mission by Lt. Col. Austin Travis (Steven Seagal). The research for the mission was done at a comfortable desk back in Washington by David Grant, Ph. D. (Kurt Russell) so Col. Travis and Dr. Grant dislike and distrust each other from the beginning with each blaming the other for the failed mission. In the next scene, Dr. Grant gets a flying lesson in a small private plane. Just before he gets to fly solo for the first time, he is called back to his desk to learn about the failed mission. Right then and there, the whole audience knows the ending of the show, but it doesn't matter because editor turned director Stuart Baird is so good at keeping the tension mounting.
While Dr. Grant is in a very formal tuxedo at a government ball, he gets called to the Pentagon situation room. It seems that the same terrorist group has hijacked a 747 and plans to kill everyone on board unless another terrorist is released from an American prison. Up until then, it is the classic terrorist problem, but Dr. Grant deduces the terrorists have an extremely lethal nerve gas called DC-5 on board, and they do not want to land in Washington, D. C., they want to kill everyone there with the gas by taking the plane on a kamikaze mission.
The only solution is to get on board the 747 in flight, defuse the bomb attached to the nerve gas, subdue the terrorists and land the plane. The question is should the president make an executive decision instead to shoot down the plane and the 400 people on board before the terrorists get a chance to explode the nerve gas over land. Dr. Grant says the rescue mission is possible since he knows a nerdy engineer named Cahill (Oliver Platt) who has devised a theoretical way to fly a stealth fighter underneath another plane and link up without being detected. Platt does all nerds proud and the classic little straw he sucks on turns out to be one of the heroes of the show.
Cahill, Dr. Grant, and a small, crack secret forces team headed by Col. Travis flies in the stealth fighter which links up with the 747. Most of the show happens after the army team plus Cahill and Dr. Grant, still in his Tux, boards the cargo hold of the 747. I will not cover what happens next, but suffice it to say that your heart may try to pound out of your chest as mine did. I even found my body shaking some on the defusing the bomb scenes. The soldier named Cappie tells the Cahill while trying to defuse the bomb not to worry since, "if you screw up, you'll never know it."
Beside what I believe is one of the best performances ever by Russell, many others are great too. David Suchet from PBS's Perot series, is excellent as the leader of the terrorists on the plane. Halle Barry plays a brave and resourceful airline stewardess. John Leguizamo and B. D. Wong are good as some of the soldiers. The only weak character in the show is an ambitious senator (J. T. Walsh) who wants to be the next president. This character happens to be on board the plane, but I wish he hadn't been. The senator's aid tells him, "Senator I think we are presented with an incredible opportunity here." The senator quizzically asks, "Opportunity for what?" The aid goes on to explain, "Remember how the press is always talking about your not having a war record? You could be the one to negotiate with the terrorists." Walsh's performance is extremely weak, and the movie would have been more focused without his character.
The show works because of the tension, but there is one technical aspect deserving of special mention, the cinematography by Alex Thomson. The first time we witness the terrorists in action, they are shown in black and white slow motion sequences that slowly gain color before dissolving into the next black and white sequence. See the show at your local monster screen house because the images of the stealth fighter coming right at you in the hazy yellow and red glow of early morning are quite impressive as is the sound. The whole linkup sequence is another marvel to behold. Finally, although the show does not try to overwhelm its viewers with technology, I was fascinated by the way the soldiers look through cameras with small flexible tubing to see what is going in the main cabin.
The script by Jim and John Thomas sticks to the suspense to keep the show going. Other writers would have gone for a lot more laughs. They do use humor, but sparingly. Upon boarding the 747, one of the soldiers says, "I hope they have a good movie on this flight." EXECUTIVE DECISION, by the way, is one film I guarantee you, you will never see on an airplane. The movie ends with Frank Sinatra singing, "It's nice to go traveling, but oh so much nicer to come home." By that time, my adrenaline was pumping so fast, I could have flown home without use of a plane.
Since this is about a presidential decision, whom do you think they cast in the role of the president? In the show's major incredulity, the answer is: nobody! The president is AWOL throughout the entire film and is not available even by telephone since he is out of the country. I guess he is in one of those fourth world countries where they have no phones. No problem, since the Secretary of Defense makes all of the decisions for him. The situation concerns the destruction of the nation's capital along with tens of millions of people, but I guess since the president can not be reached, he is dealing with matters of more import.
Finally, every show with bad guys has to have them be of some nationality or religious conviction. Although most American shows with bad guys, have just plain old Americans as the evil characters, I have seen the villains be Colombians, Italians, Fundamentalist Christains, and just about everyone imaginable. In this movie they are Islamic. We were pamphleted on arrival, admonishing us that Islam does not condone killing. I wonder if in the future, I will be pamphleted by Colombians, Italians, Fundamentalist Christains, etc.? Oh well, they were very friendly and polite leafleters. I should point out that the number two in command complains at one point to David Suchet about the destruction of Washington that, "This has nothing to do with Islam."
EXECUTIVE DECISION runs 2:15, but it feels like a much shorter show. I would advise going to the bathroom before entering the theater. You do not want to miss a second of the suspense. The film is rated R. This is a soft R that comes from a little bad language and several people killed, but without a lot of blood or gore, more like an old fashion Western. There is no sex or nudity. The movie would be fine for any teenager. I loved this show, and I think you will too so I recommend it highly and give it *** 1/2.
Copyright + 1996 Steve Rhodes