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Memphis Flyer All in a Day's Work

By Hadley Hury

AUGUST 4, 1997:  The best thing Air Force One has going for it is the relentless pace that director Wolfgang Petersen sustains for the film's entire 120 minutes. Having come to international critical attention with Das Boot, a powerful dramatization of the psychology of claustrophobia among a submarine crew, and more recently directing In the Line of Fire, a thriller in which Clint Eastwood's taciturn Secret Service agent must outwit, and outpace, a psychopathic would-be assassin played by John Malkovich, Petersen has become something of a master at purveying the triumph of quiet heroism over the stomach-wrenching terror of twisted psyches in tight places. He was a natural choice to helm this film, in which the president of the United States (Harrison Ford), his family, and several senior officials and staff are hijacked in Air Force One by a band of rabid terrorists (led by Gary Oldman) -- and he was a fortunate choice. Petersen's handling of this big-budget summer thriller nearly makes up for a very superficial script by Andrew W. Marlowe.

President John Marshall is a Mr. Smith Goes To Washington leader-of-the-free-world who departs from scripted policy speeches to commit in public to doing "the right thing, the moral thing." He might be a Ronald Reagan except for the fact that his daughter (Liesel Matthews) respects and adores him, his wife (Wendy Crewson) has a hairdo that moves, and he's an American with whom almost all Americans seem to be comfortable -- Harrison Ford. The focus of the film is so elementarily good guy/bad guy Ford isn't given all that much to play. But as he nearly single-handedly wrests the aircraft from Oldman's gang of Russian neo-nationalist whackos, Ford's guy-next-door factor and worn good looks do their minimalist screen magic.

Oldman's performance as the terrorist struggles free of the script's cliches; its menace festers unpredictably with irrational zealotry. Director Petersen also effectively deploys a fine supporting cast to enhance the film's suspense. He very wisely gives Glenn Close, playing the vice president, a number of close-ups, and in only a few very undernourished, very banal scenes, she is able to do more with her eyes than many a lesser actor might achieve in a full-blown, two-hour, lead performance.

The High Noon-ish patriotism of Air Force One is so shallow and oversimplified that it scarcely bears examination. It does, however, provoke one thought that's hard to dislodge. The president of the United States is paid $250,000 a year to do the job. Harrison Ford was paid nearly 100 times that for playing the president for a shooting schedule of less than two months.

What's wrong with that picture of patriotism?

KENAN THOMPSON AND KEL Mitchell, the Nickelodeon network's comedy-duo du jour, have made their first film. Good Burger is targeted to K & K's faithful audience -- an unusually wide age-range of children, approximately 5 to 13. A trip to the local multiplex to see this bit of summer silliness will give (a) the kids something to talk about and silly bits to reenact for a couple of weeks and (b) accompanying adults -- at least those not worn out by their charges and/or the heat and simply grateful to be sitting in a dark, cool place -- a chance to contemplate some interesting cultural demographics.

It's a stretch to say there's a story, but the premise for this extended series of silly wordplay, sight gags, and slapstick is that wheeler-dealer Dexter (Kenan) is forced to take a summer job at Good Burger in order to pay for car repairs after having a wreck while joyriding. There he teams with regular Good Burger employee, the spaced-out buffoon Ed (Kel), to fight an evil plot by their new, nearby competitor, Mondo Burger, a hi-tech factory run by a fast-food fascist named Kurt (Jan Schwieterman).

The most encouraging aspect of the audience for these two silly guys and their particularly goofy brand of adolescence is its apparent color-blindness. At a time when media stratification of markets by race has never been more cynical and insidious (and usually driven by the lowest possible denominators), K & K, who are black, appeal to kids of all races. Similarly, their audiences are not tightly defined by economic strata. Kenan and Kel's characters in Good Burger derive from one of their recurring Nickelodeon program sketches and are vaguely middle-class. A bit more troubling, or at least worth contemplating, is the age spread of the kids who follow these guys' shenanigans. It is indicative, at least in part, of how difficult it is for interested parents to locate acceptable -- not to mention positive, nurturing, or challenging -- television and film for their children. Most 5-year-olds could not possibly understand the verbal humor (such as it is) in Good Burger and most 13-year-olds would likely be on the cusp of finding K & K's puerile physical shtick like, totally, uncool. Interested parents may find themselves considering the nature of the comedy that holds the avid interest of those in between. Is it just all-in-good-fun Little Rascals-type stuff or is it one more hard-call case of questionable role-modeling? Is Ed one more persona that champions dumbing-down and Dexter one more pre-teen populist tribute to irresponsibility and life-as-scam?

NOTHING TO LOSE IS AN appropriately titled picture for those looking for a few laughs this summer movie season. Quality comedies have been so sorely missing from movie screens this year that when a vehicle that holds even the slimmest possibility of eliciting a chuckle comes along, you've got to go for it. And in the case of this film, audiences are much more likely to come away winners than losers.

Nothing To Lose features Tim Robbins as Nick Beam, an L.A. ad executive who has it all -- a beautiful, loving wife; a fulfilling job; and a brand-new sport-utility vehicle. All that seemingly goes to pot, however, when Beam comes home early one afternoon and apparently finds his wife (Kelly Preston) having an affair with his boss (Michael McKean, playing off the overbearing-boss riff he originated on HBO's Dream On).

Taking no action and despondent over his discovery, Beam drives the streets of L.A. in a near-catatonic state until he is shocked out of it by would-be hold-up man T. Paul (Martin Lawrence). Wanting to strike back at somebody, anybody, Beam turns the tables on his assailant and takes him hostage. Thus begins a beautiful (if unlikely) friendship that is consummated when the two dream up a plan for Beam to get even with his boss by robbing his office safe and thus ruining him financially.

Along the way there is a menacing case of mistaken identity involving another interracial crime duo (John McGinley and Giancarlo Esposito), and Beam and T. Paul maybe learn something about perspective and being a man or something. But for the most part, this is movie lite; it just doesn't sit with you very long after you leave the theatre.

Writer/director Steve Oedekerk -- who also delivers a knockout-funny cameo in his own film as a night watchman -- is working on a more sophisticated level than on his previous film, Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls -- but not much. Broad, outlandish, physical comedy (a la Jim Carrey) is still the order of the day, with Lawrence and, surprisingly, Robbins making the most out of their slim roles. It's a credit to both of their abilities that this film would be a much lesser work without them. The true comedy in Nothing To Lose is not in the writing but in the interpretation.

But no matter. Nobody is going to write a doctoral thesis on this film, but if they're lucky they might pass a couple of pleasant hours in an air-conditioned theatre, laughing hysterically.

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

  • Presidential Pap - "Air Force One" Is Yet Another Predictabel Thriller.

  • Movie Guru - Turning the standard summer blockbuster on its ear, Air Force One proves fantasies really can come true.

  • Hell to the Chief - Air Force One makes a credible movie out of an absurd premise.

  • Air Force One - Official site

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