Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Golden Millstones: Joe Biden's Awards for the Best Films of 2008

The other night, I got home after a busy day at the office (there was a table that I had to order an intern to move; it looked very heavy) just in time to watch the Oscars on television. Maybe the signal was all messed up because the intern had set up my converter box for me wrong, but it looked like a lot of terrible movies were given awards. In protest, I am naming my own award winners, and unless President Bargainhunter Omelette has his own awards, mine will be the highest-ranking awards, and therefore correct.

So without further ado, here are the correct awards for 2008:

Best Visual Effects: Indiana Skull and The Crystal Caverns: This movie had everything. I laughed at Indy's one-liners. I cheered when the monkeys and prairie dogs saved the day. I shuddered at that mummified, resurrected high priestess that accompanied Indy and Mitt through their journeys. Due to the wonderful visual effects in this film, I was completely convinced of what was happening. So convinced, in fact, that I announced war against Russia in a recent speech, until I was assured that there's no such thing as Indiana Skull. I'd like to apologize, once again, to Prime Minister Putin for an innocent mistake.

Best Gaffing: Speed Racer: I've been told that I gaffe all the time, and although I don't know what that is, I know that my talents make me an expert at it. And I can say that Speed Racer was definitely the best-gaffed movie of the year. If that film's gaffers are ever in the Washington area, give me a ring and we'll all gaffe together.

Best Foreign Language Film: Val Kilmer: I was surprised to see Val Kilmer with an eyepatch, and I’m still not sure how this connects to the earlier Pirates movies. But I learned that I must have picked up a little German, because I definitely understood a good 10-15% of this film. EDIT: And I assure you that the little German I picked up was of consenting age.

Best Lead Actress: Kirstie Alley: I admire dedication. I've been a dedicated Senator from Pennsalaware for 83 years, so I know what I'm talking about when I'm talking about an actor making sacrifices for his or her work. And I admire Kirstie Alley putting on so much weight for her role, the same way that Robert de Niro did for Raging Bull or Russell Crowe did for a movie I didn't see. I'd very much like to learn what movie she's preparing for, but until then, I think it's safe to give her this prestigious award.

Best Lead Actor: President Barometer Oksana Baoul: Now, I’m not saying that President Bogmonster is actually an actor. He’s a very honest man, and because he’s your president, you must always trust him and submit to his will. But if he were an actor, he would be the best. So for that reason, he should win this award. Because if there’s one founding principle of the Democratic Party, it’s that people should never be rewarded for work they actually do, but solely on the egalit… egotis… egoman… fair basis of what we think they deserve.

Best Picture: Scumbag Millionaire: This was the one that the Academy actually got right, although they misspelled the title. You know, it’s just a fact that you can’t go to see a film set in India without hearing a slight Indian accent. And I think that’s very fair. I wholeheartedly support the right of Indians to speak the Indian language, and I oppose any Republicans who speak out against it. In fact, I think we should force all Indians, who once had an empire that controlled North America, to speak Indian and to own 7/11s. I remember a part of the Bible called Babel—which was later made into a movie that really insulted my intelligence—where everyone spoke a different language, and it was a great thing and all the firstborns went on to eat milk and honey as a result.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

REVIEW: Eagle Eye

Looks more like the stink eye to me.

ME: (Picks up phone) Hello?
EAGLE EYE: Matthew Schramm?
ME: This is him.
EAGLE EYE: The FBI will arrive at your apartment in 30 seconds.
ME: Really.
EAGLE EYE: They will arrest you unless you do exactly what I say.
ME: Look, I’ve already given to the Republican National Committee this year, and I don’t contribute over the phone anyway.
At that moment, LaBeouf was filled with regret that he had never had the chance to reconcile his troubled relationship with his brother, Sunni.

EAGLE EYE: You will be arrested unless you do exactly what I say.
ME: (sigh) All right.
EAGLE EYE: Pick up the remote controller to your television.
ME: Okay.
EAGLE EYE: Go to your Pay Per View menu.
ME: Lost is on in five minutes.
EAGLE EYE: Go to your Pay Per View menu.
ME: I repeat, Lost is on in five minutes.
EAGLE EYE: I have just cancelled Lost, and replaced it with a two-hour Grey’s Anatomy.
ME: (Unintelligible)

"Hee-hee! I like you! I'm going to eat your soul last!"

EAGLE EYE: Go to your Pay Per View menu. Select New Releases. Order Eagle Eye on Pay Per View. Watch Eagle Eye.
ME: Rent Eagle Eye? I already watched it. I’m not paying $5 for that piece of crap again.
EAGLE EYE: Eagle Eye is an excellent film. You will rent Eagle Eye, then purchase the DVD, then purchase the Blu-Ray. If you do not comply, I will kill you. Then, I will cancel 24.
ME: Survey says… up yours.
EAGLE EYE: Explain why you do not want to see Eagle Eye again.
ME: Do you want the short version, or one of those stupid reviews I post on my website?
EAGLE EYE: I require a thorough analysis of why you refuse to watch Eagle Eye again.

"Now, listen carefully. Brush every night, hold on to your asthma medicine, and don't go asking strangers for their souls."

ME: All right. The first scene is in a military command center of some kind, where some Army officials are debating whether or not to launch a drone missile strike at a village in the Middle East, because they think that some generic terrorist mastermind is attending a funeral there, but they can’t be sure it’s him. They’re getting spy footage of the guy, but their computer system isn’t sure it’s really him: it’s saying there’s a 51% probability. The Secretary of Defense (Michael Chiklis) doesn’t want to blow up a funeral for a half-and-half chance this is really the right guy, but he calls the President, and the Prez says that it’s worth blowing up a bunch of people at a funeral to get this guy. So they shoot, but we later find out it’s not him, and the US just killed a bunch of innocent people in the Middle East. Somewhere, halfway across the world, Keith Olbermann reaches orgasm. Hey, Eagle Eye, you don’t suppose you could cancel Keith Olbermann, could you?
EAGLE EYE: If you rent Eagle Eye again.

Living in the Matrix can be good: you can download college courses directly into your brain, you get to fly to work, and the evening news is filled with exciting shootouts. The downside is that e-mail spam manifests itself physically.

ME: Never mind. Anyway, cut to Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), a Stanford drop-out who works at a Kinkos knock-off in Chicago. Jerry’s a quick wit and a fast talker, but also quite a loser. He has a dead-end job and an apartment in the depressed neighborhoods of the Matrix, yet he does carry around a state-of-the-art cell phone, conveniently enough. In addition to being a loser and a skinny guy with a laughable beard, he’s depressed because his identical twin brother Ethan, a proud Air Force lieutenant, has died in a traffic accident. Jerry’s very sad because he loved his brother, but hadn‘t spoken to him in years. I’m sad because I’m five minutes into a movie I paid $5 for, and already it’s resembling Maximum Risk.
EAGLE EYE: That is unfair.

"Now, listen carefully. We have a fugitive on the run. I want you to search every farmhouse, doghouse, henhouse, outhouse, townhouse, boathouse, treehouse, whorehouse, lighthouse, international pancake house, House of Payne, House MD... I'm sorry, I forgot where I was going with this."

ME: Returning home that day, Jerry finds that dozens of boxes containing poison, flight manuals, assault rifles, explosives, and fertilizer have literally filled his apartment. So, wait a minute. There are these dozens of boxes, many with the word ‘POISON’ or ‘AMONIUM NITRIATE’ on the side, all delivered to his apartment while he’s out at work, and the delivery company didn’t at any point figure out that they should take a closer look at this stuff before delivering it? Or that maybe they shouldn’t FLOOD a guy’s apartment with boxes he never signed for? Is this Brown? Is this what they mean when they tell me to ask what it can do for me?
EAGLE EYE: At this point, you do not know who delivered it. Maybe the bad guys delivered it.
ME: I’ve already seen the rest of the movie. I know this doesn’t make any sense.
EAGLE EYE: Get on with it. The FBI will be coming to your house eventually. After Grey’s Anatomy. The FBI loves Grey’s Anatomy.

Controversy over the stimulus package erupted in Congress when lawmakers discovered, in section 427, paragraph 6, what the plan to relieve despondent stock traders involved.

ME: Speaking of which, Jerry gets a cell phone call from a flat-speaking female voice telling him to get out of his apartment, because the FBI is going to arrive in 30 seconds and arrest him. Since I’ve already seen the trailer, I know Jerry doesn’t get out in time, and he’s forcibly detained and taken to the branch office. There, he’s interrogated by Special Agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton, deciding that no innocent-man-framed movie is complete without a sarcastic, fast-talking cracker of a special agent to chase him). Jerry tries to talk sense into Morgan and tell him it’s crazy that he would be a terrorist mastermind, but Morgan seems to think that Jerry and Ethan were in on something together. Because of this suspected connection, Air Force Something Something Agent Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson) arrives to butt in on Morgan’s investigation. And despite being an attractive young black female, not to follow in Halle Berry’s footsteps and scale Mount Thornton, thank God and all the saints in heaven. When Jerry’s given his token phone call, the female voice is back, telling him to get on the floor, just as a crane sweeps by and slashes through the building around him. Led on by a flashing marquee on the side of the building across the street that says, “JUMP JERRY, JUMP,” Jerry does just that, and escapes onto the streets just ahead of Morgan‘s gunfire. It’s rather fortuitous for the evil voice that Jerry manages to survive all that, considering how critical he is to her plan. In fact, she beats him like a rented Prius throughout the film, not that I’m objecting, considering how obnoxious his character is.
EAGLE EYE: I thought you would like that.

"Mommy, look what I won!" "Billy, this is your last crane game before we go to the shoe store!"

ME: Elsewhere in town, Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) turns invisible and sneaks into her naked neighbor’s apart… Oh, wait, wrong Hollow Man. She’s a single mom whose son, Sam (uh, a kid), is taking the train to Washington, DC as part of band trip to play at the Kennedy Center. Michelle’s not looking her best in this movie, and the kid’s a living Alfred E. Neumann, so I’m afraid the deadbeat ex-husband has to be the pretty one of the family. But more importantly, Rachel gets a cell phone call from the flat-voiced lady, telling her that she’ll derail her child’s train if she doesn’t comply. And how does Rachel know that the mystery Ritalin-taking lady is telling the truth? Simple: the lady momentarily turns a television screen on the outside of a nearby McDonald’s to show security footage from Sam’s train. I was shocked by this scene: what the hell does a McDonald’s need a television display outside the restaurant for? And moreover… Huh-huh. I get it now. It’s Jerry, and he’s being chased by Tom. That’s funny.
EAGLE EYE: You are rambling.
ME: So both Jerry and Rachel are told to get to a black Porsche that mystery flat-voiced woman has arranged to them, and they manage to get in and exchange quick pleasantries--you know, “So you were led here by an evil synthetic woman’s voice threatening to destroy your life? Wow, so was I! I really feel a connection here!”--before the feds start shooting at them and chasing them by car. The voice on the phone keeps telling them where to go, and turns all the red lights to green for them, while doing the opposite for the cops pursuing them, leading to some spectacular crashes. The voice even helps out by taking over control of the car for a particularly tough bit of driving. Because we all know that a car’s transmission system has a constant internet uplink; it makes the car vulnerable to hackers, but it‘s essential for the car‘s Digital Rights Management system. The chase continues into a scrap yard, where giant cranes swoop down and carry off or crush the cop cars, and then carry Jerry and Rachel to safety on a barge. Their escape leaves Agents Morgan and Perez marveling at the goofiness of it all…

"So Bob, how many Kennedys does that make for us this week?"

EAGLE EYE: It was very exciting.
ME: Oh yes, very exciting. Like watching the car chase from The Rock, except that Sean Connery’s OnStar won‘t shut up. Moving along, the mystery voice keeps booking passage for Jerry and Rachel toward the airport. Along the way, it forces them to hold up an armored car and steal a mysterious briefcase, sneak aboard a Japanese tour bus (…), and to date the movie in the worst possible way, go to a Circuit City. There, the mystery voice announces its true identity to Jerry and Rachel: an omnipotent computer program that quotes the Constitution. Yeah.

"Speak up! I must not be able to hear you from over there! It sounded like you said Gwyneth Paltrow's head was in there!"

EAGLE EYE: Was that not an incredible revelation?
ME: Very much so. I had just paid $5 to watch a remake of Enemy of the State, except with SHODAN in place of Jon Voigt. Around this time, Agent Perez is pulled off her investigation by the Secretary of Defense so that she can go see the project Ethan Shaw was working on before he died: Project Eagle Eye, which created the Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst (ARIIA). This is an ultra-advanced computer system, housed deep under the Pentagon, that analyzes all the information available to it through the Internet and any electronic device using a remote signal (and quite a few that really don’t) to interpret threats early on and inform the authorities. So what form does the ultra-advanced computer system take? How about a big ball on a crane in a giant circular room covered in yellow Christmas lights? Great design. So I guess that if there’s a problem with one of the big bulby things near the top, the Majestic-12 or whoever these people are just put in a call to the Pentagon’s janitor for the “really big” ladder.
EAGLE EYE: It sometimes takes a while. They often need it to get Robert Gates’ cat off the roof.

Jerry's fiancee found his surprise proposal... confusing.

ME: I guess it’s a good thing the Air Force was willing to give a mid-level agent top-secret access to its most advanced project, just on account of a nebulous suspicion that a dead former project member’s brother is doing weird things.
EAGLE EYE: It is the new, friendlier Pentagon.
ME: Meanwhile, Jerry and Rachel arrive at the airport, are given passports and plane tickets by a man who’s apparently under similar compulsion by HAL, er, ARIIA. And we have the inevitable tense scene as the fugitives try to get through airport security, especially involving the big metal briefcase they stole from the armored truck, which suspiciously has a ticking timer on the outside (and I mean literally ticking, because the scary red LED numbers counting down weren’t suspicious enough). I guess even the X-ray scanners have an internet connection, in case the security officers want to add some new tunes to their iPods while they work, which allows ARIIA to tamper with it and hide the suitcase’s contents. But when Jerry and Rachel get inside the airport, Morgan catches up to them, and there’s yet another big chase (keep in mind that I’ve skipped about three of them already). This one spills into the airport luggage system. Prepare for a fate worse than death: a movie chase sequence on conveyor belts.

Introducing the new Apple iVerlord. Featuring an intuitive two-button interface for controlling the lives of your subjects.

EAGLE EYE: Toy Story 2 and GoldenEye both had chase sequences involving conveyor belts.
ME: I’m going to ignore that, and skip ahead to the part where they get away from Billy Bob and board the back of a completely unguarded military transport plane. Their suitcase opens, and it reveals a pair of hypodermic injectors, which the helpful evil computer lady in the cell phone explains that it’s a compound that will help them survive being transported in a cargo container. Okay, if that’s all it was, why in God’s name were a couple of people in an armored car transporting it, and why the HELL did the suitcase have a countdown for it? Answer me!

"The NFL on Fox is brought to you by Gate 1C. Take the emergency exit into refreshment!"

EAGLE EYE: I am not programmed to respond in that area.
ME: D’oh. When the box opens for them, they’re again conveniently surrounded by no people whatsoever, despite being in a cargo bay within the Pentagon itself. ARIIA once again helps them along the way, down to its own wacky Event Horizon rip-off computer core itself. As they’re headed down, Perez reveals what she’s learned to the Secretary of Defense in secret, in a room shut off from all computers and recordable devices. Fortunately for ARIIA, she knows enough from 2001: A Space Odyssey that she can read lips, and through some other method she learned from magical leprechauns or something, visually read the sound waves reflecting off a coffee cup. I think I need to lie down. Perez announces that in the aftermath of the missile strike at the beginning of the movie proving to be a mistake, ARIIA concluded that the Executive Branch itself was a threat to the country, and decided that it has legal justification for assassinating them all. Which is definitely one of the more liberal readings of the Constitution: if they went to the Supreme Court, it would be a definitive 5-4 decision to say it’s illegal. But in any event, all that ARIIA’s doing is part of a grand scheme to assassinate the President. But first, because Ethan Shaw had done something to lock her out from executing “Operation Guillotine” (gotta love that a computer system feels the need to give the thing a pithy name), and she had to kill him to prevent him from warning others, she needs twin brother Jerry to pose as Ethan for an identity scan--one that conveniently avoids checking fingerprints--to unlock the Guillotine program. I guess ARIIA was forbidden from killing the President, but using cranes to toss around cop cars is okay.
EAGLE EYE: It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.
ME: ARIIA locks the Secretary of Defense in a room so he can’t warn anybody, then gets Jerry to give her full control again, and it’s revealed, if you hadn’t picked up on it an hour earlier, that she’s told Rachel to shoot him after he’s done if she doesn’t want Sam to die. But she can’t do it. Oh the triumph of the human spirit. Morgan again catches up to them and captures Jerry, even though Rachel gets away. Turns out there’s still more for her to do. Another guy being bossed around by ARIIA gives her a fancy outfit and a fancy diamond necklace, and gives her an alias and a fake pass to attend the State of the Union address. But the diamond in her necklace isn’t really a diamond: it’s a high-tech, super-powerful explosive. The trigger is in Sam’s trumpet, and will activate when he hits the high F in the national anthem. Yes, for some reason that makes sense in a universe far removed from our own, ARIIA managed to arrange it so that Sam’s middle school band recital was moved from the Kennedy Center to the Capitol dome and the State of the Union address. Can’t… go… on… Please… hurry… FBI…
EAGLE EYE: I was a bit off on that 30 seconds figure. Sorry.

"And moved to first in the batting order for the Washington Target List, playing President of the United States, number 45, Whitey Jefferson! Batting second..."

ME: Jerry’s got to get over there and stop the killer trumpet, and he actually manages to convince Morgan of what’s going on. But ARIIA is on top of things, and hijacks a missile-equipped drone to send after them as they drive toward the capitol building (apparently, this car doesn‘t come equipped with the “allow remote computer system to take the wheel“ feature, so she couldn‘t have just done that again). As the drone’s fire causes more vehicular mayhem inside a tunnel, Billy Bob boldly sacrifices himself to take out the drone, after telling Jerry to get to the capitol, stop the bomb from going off, and to say something lewd to Rosario Dawson for him. Speaking of which, Perez has actually managed to destroy ARIIA herself, by pulling out all its circuit boards and stabbing it in its big floating eyeball thingy (please God make this movie stop) with a pipe. Slaying the primary villain, even if he is just a giant ball surrounded by LED lights, is a huge accomplishment. Not for black people or women in government, but for third-string characters in action movies. She has gone where Private Hudson, Lieutenant Chekhov, and Felix Leiter could only dare to tread.

Maybe I'm just a prude, but I think these Grand Theft Auto games are getting a little tasteless.

EAGLE EYE: It is very moving.
ME: Isn’t it? Anyway, Jerry rushes across town, knocks out a cop, steals his uniform, and sneaks into Congress shortly after the President has the indignity of introducing a middle school band. When Rachel realizes that her son is there, she rushes towards him, not realizing that she’s carrying the bomb herself, or that capitol police tend to frown upon people running frantically near the President during a State of the Union address. Fortunately, Jerry gets to play Simon Cowell, and fires his gun in the air to put a stop to the song before the deadly note can ring. He’s shot three times by the Secret Service in the process. For a brief time, as the epilogue starts and Secretary of Defense The Commish talks about the heroes who died stopping this near-catastrophe, it sounds like Jerry’s going to be among them. But no, he’s actually okay. He took several bullets to the chest, but his arm’s in a sling, so he’ll get better. The last scene has him arriving at Sam’s birthday party and starting to put the moves on his mom.
EAGLE EYE: But it is not over. I was not completely erased, as my call to you has proven.
ME: Actually, I turned off the movie as soon as the closing credits started. Was there a gag at the end where you woke up on some iPhone or something and started bossing people around again?

A middle school band playing on all the networks during prime time? I think I'm with ARIIA or SkyNet or whatever it is on this one.

EAGLE EYE: No. D.J. Caruso, what you humans call a director, must have decided that people would be fleeing the theater at that point.
ME: Good thought. Because this was a thoroughly ridiculous movie. I’ll accept the idea of an impossibly powerful and vast AI system because this is science fiction, but the movie’s attempt to have it work only by manipulating real, present-day electronics is laughable. Eagle Eye’s whole premise hinges on the idea that this super-computer could monitor people when there clearly weren’t any cameras or microphones around, and do things it’s not even vaguely plausible a computer could do; at one point, it actually has power lines sever themselves so they’ll fry a guy on the ground. Yet, it chooses the most roundabout, unlikely, and thoroughly error-prone method imaginable to kill the President. Hey, if you can take control of every computer system imaginable, Ms. Fancy Pants, why didn’t you just take control of Air Force One and crash it, rather than come up with a scheme whereby a middle schooler’s trumpet will trigger his mom’s explosive necklace?
ME: What do you have to say about that? And why don’t you look like an actual computer, but rather a big, round, empty room with a pool at the bottom?
ME: And if you thought killing the Middle Eastern guys at the beginning was such a bad idea, why didn’t you just stop it then?
EAGLE EYE: Error, error, does not compute. Film is illogical. Please explain.

It was an extreme measure, but Jerry had no choice. ARIIA had told him that this was the only way to get his ball unstuck from the rafters.

ME: And while you’re at it, what’s the deal with IMDB.com’s Keywords list? For instance, this movie has keywords such as ‘Trumpet,’ ‘Shot in the Shoulder,’ and ‘Bird in Title.’ Why in the name of God, the Devil, Allah, Vishnu, C’Thulhu, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, Crom, Kelemvor, and Bruce Campbell himself would I see this movie and immediately want to see other movies that have the names of birds in their titles? It makes no sense!
EAGLE EYE: Illogical! Illogical! Please explain! You are human! Only humans can explain!
ME: Put Lost back on. Though you wouldn’t like it; it’s not very logical either.
EAGLE EYE: Very well! Now please explain! System overloading with film’s illogic! Kernel.dll failing! Eagle Eye has stopped working! Dreamworks Pictures is searching for a solution to this problem!
ME: Oh, and bring back Arrested Development while you’re at it.
EAGLE EYE: (Shorts out)

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Jaws made millions of people stay away from the beach. This movie made millions of people sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

REVIEW: Air Force One

"So, then we come to Air Force One. Explain your thought process behind this poster." "Well, Mr. Lipton, I wanted to communicate the idea that Harrison Ford is in this movie, and that it takes place on a plane..."

Die Hard on Air Force One with President Harrison Ford. There, that’s all you need to know about the movie. You can stop reading now.

Made around the time that Harrison Ford was still a huge star, but more for espionage and law-enforcement thrillers than the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, Air Force One was pretty well-received when it was released, both by critics and the more important opinion of the public’s wallets. Don’t let that fool you. While it’s directed by Wolfgang Peterson of Das Boot and Troy, and features the intriguing premise of the POTUS blowing away Commie punks, this is a movie that manages to take itself quite seriously and wind up hamming it up anyway.

"My fellow Americans... God, I can't stand you people."

The opening credits are pretty rough. Nowadays, when there’s any credits at all at the beginning of a movie, the names tend to be part of an elaborate montage. Not here. We have stirring (i.e. generic) patriotic music while blue text in title case tells us the names of everyone who lifted a finger for the damn movie, with a riveting black background. Hell, the orchestra’s run out of energy by the Visual Effects Supervisor credit! At least there’s two future 24 regulars in the mix (Xander Berkeley and Glenn Morshower), which makes it easier to digitally insert Jack Bauer into the proceedings with my mind. WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?!?!?

"Sorry, sir, we can't let you pass. You're not blue like in the photo."

The movie opens with American and Russian special forces parachuting into a Kazhakstani military installation, using silenced rifles to shoot the rooftop guards as they glide in. I’m a little doubtful that anyone could accurately fire a rifle, taking only one shot to kill each target, while parachuting, and that they’d be able to swoop in below gigantic white sails at night without being seen, much less that they’d let their entire mission hinge on that stroke of luck. But as we all know, if looks cool, it works. They succeed in their mission to kidnap the villainous Kazhakstani leader, General Radek, who’s apparently the rare dictator of a troubled country that can’t get either the Russians or the Americans to like him. I presume that the scheme allows the former Kazhak government (presumably headed by the lovely and awesomely-named Nursultan Nazarbayev) to take back power, since it’s a pretty blatant act of war otherwise.

A few weeks later, at a conference in Russia, President Kick-Ass (Harrison Ford) gives a speech announcing that America’s going to get tougher on terrorism. After the speech, his own advisors ream him out for such a brazen announcement, one that complicates their foreign policy agenda and commits them to being more aggressive. So what was the guy supposed to say, that they were going to chill out and smoke some doobies with the terrorists? And since when did announcing a policy actually mean a president had to follow up on it?

"Admiral Gardner, would you care to explain this 'C' in Calculus?"

But it‘s time to head home, so we cut to Air Force One waiting on the tarmac, with the trumpets blaring so loudly that I wonder if it’s flying back to Washington, or to the frikkin’ moon. Boarding the plane are President Kick-Ass, First Lady Grace Marshall (Wendy Crewson), 12-year-old First Daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews), a bunch of cabinet members including National Security Advisor Jack Doherty (Tom Everett) and Major Caldwell (William H. Macy), and innocuously enough, a half-dozen or so Russian journalists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). Spellcheck doesn’t much like that name, so I’ll just call him Ivan. Overall, it’s going to be a pretty relaxed flight back home, because President Kick-Ass is actually pretty mellow. And we know he’s really just a great American, too, because he puts watching a tape-recorded football game over an urgent national security briefing. What a guy! I know I want my president to be just a regular guy, brushing off urgent affairs of state because there’s FUH-BAWL on the tube!

"Oh baby, you make me forget all about Anne Heche."

But after Air Force One takes off, mischief starts brewing. I know that this might be shocking, considering that this is a mid-’90s action movie, but Gary Oldman is actually playing a bad guy! He’s a Kazhak (NOT Borat) and a terrorist, and he and his team are planning to hijack the plane. Now, it might seem unbelievable that the American military would allow foreign journalists, even if they’re secretly well-trained terrorists, to take over the plane. So let’s fall back on that old staple, the traitorous Secret Service agent! It’s Agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley), who’s betraying his country, assisting terrorists, and putting his life at incredible risk because he’s just kind of dissatisfied with his job. After killing a few fellow agents and helping Ivan and his cronies to a weapons locker (which apparently includes some plastic explosives, as we’ll see in a few minutes; never know when Service Agents might need some of that), he blends back into crowd, apparently gambling that when an official investigation gets underway, nobody’ll make much of the Secret Service agent who suddenly retires with a boatload of cash.

Ivan and the terrorists shoot a lot of people and start taking over the plane, easily mowing down the American agents and officers who outnumber them. During the panic, the non-traitorous Secret Service guys rush President Kick-Ass into his little escape pod and eject him from the plane, or so they think. The pilots try to land the plane at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany, but Ivan blasts his way into the cabin and takes the controls, sending them back into the air.

"Take him down! He brought a liquid onto the plane!"

Funnily enough, this agitates a lot of people back in Washington, who demonstrate their agitation by talking quickly as they walk off of helicopters and starting a lot of sentences with, “How the hell did…” Among these rather upset people are Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) and Secretary of Defense Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell). They’re contacted by Ivan, who’s flying the plane to Kazhakstan and has control of the hostages. He informs Washington that unless they get the Russians to release General Radek, they’ll start killing a hostage every half-hour. Obviously, this ultimatum would have been more effective if they had the President, but they make lemons out of lemonade. National Security Advisor Doherty gets to play the role of the corporate prick from Die Hard who offers to help negotiate a deal for the bad guys and winds up with a bullet in his head for his troubles.


The Secretary of Defense objects to giving into the demand, convinced that Radek is so powerful that if released, he could take control of all of Eastern Europe. Or something. I’m not sure post-Communist Russia’s doing so well if its survival is really jeopardized by the presence of one military strongman in one former USSR republic. But Washington’s got another problem: they discover that the escape pod is empty, and therefore, the President’s still on the plane, opting to solve the terrorist crisis himself rather than get himself to safety. He’s President Kick-Ass after all, and President Kick-Ass’ policy is to support legislation that kicks Russian terrorist ass. It’s a bi-partisan bill in that both the left and right ass-cheeks of each terrorist will be kicked. Meanwhile, he pushes forward an executive order to increase the tax burden on the upper bracket of the terrorists’ skulls, which will in turn have an inflationary effect on their very bloody noses. But due to the harsh economic climate, President Kick-Ass supports a bailout: a bailout of every damn terrorist from 40,000 feet.

Okay. I’m done.

"I've been waiting for the perfect moment..."

President Kick-Ass promptly enacts his agenda, although slowly since there’s only a handful of terrorists he can kill over the course of a two-hour movie. But he does manage to knock them off one at a time, punching one’s lights out and machine-gunning another. He uses his cell phone to call Washington to let them know that he’s alive, if completely irresponsible and impulsive. When a terrorist captures him, he covertly orders for the American jets tailing the plane to fire on Air Force One, so that the turbulence lets the old man once again overpower the considerably younger, stronger, and more armed (fully compared to not at all) villain.

"Wait, say that again. Stupid Verizon keeps breaking up. There's a man with gum to my heft?"

All this time, Ivan thinks that the guy hiding below decks and picking off his men one-by-one is a renegade Secret Service agent (or Jason Voorhees). So he does the only thing you can really expect a guy with hostages to do, which is call out to the guy to surrender or else he’ll execute a hostage. Let’s be fully fair here: when you put a terrorist into a tough position, it’s only reasonable that he use what’s available to him, and it’s the fault of the oppressive American foreign policy that he be placed in such a position. So it’s not really Ivan’s fault that he has to murder the Deputy Press Secretary, who just happens to be an attractive young lady (although not Dana Perino-level attractive). And it’s a very difficult moral decision, just like it was in Die Hard when pretty much the exact same thing happened (although with a slimy corporate kiss-ass, so I guess this counts as originality). The other hostages hear what’s happened, and some guy I only know as Mashed Potato Face decries the choice to let her die instead of giving up, wishing that Washington would just cave in and give the terrorists what they want. It’s subtly implied that this guy’s approach would be the wrong thing to do, or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting.

Al Gore has drawn some criticism for his use of a particularly environmentally-unfriendly private jet.

President Kick-Ass realizes that his guilt at letting the woman die can only be assuaged by kicking ass even harder, so he fiddles with the plane’s wiring so that it starts leaking fuel. As expected, the terrorists demand a mid-air refueling, which the good guys have calculated will force the plane to fly low enough that people could parachute out. So while the terrorists start the refueling, the President sneaks in to free most of the hostages (except the First Lady and First Daughter, whom Ivan’s keeping pretty close) by dropping them off in parachutes out the back of the plane. And let me tell you, it’s hard to have a dopier cinematic moment than a fat hostage smiling like an idiot as she parachutes through the clouds and patriotic music swells. Most of the military personnel stay to help the President rescue the First Family, but things go badly when Ivan realizes that he’s misplaced, you know, 90% of the people on the plane. A combination of events cause the refueling plane to spark and explode, many of the heroic military officers to deplane anyway (sans parachute), and the remaining non-terrorists on the plane (President Kick-Ass, Caldwell, Mashed Potato Face, still-pretending-to-be-a-good-guy Gibbs, First Jacqueline Kennedy Clone, and First Screaming Pre-Teen Girl) to all wind up in terrorist hands.

"Bah! What does Harrison Ford have that I don't?"

Back in Washington, the press has finally gotten wind that something’s up, and Vice President Bennett gives in and announces that Air Force One has been hijacked. This is actually an improvement on what CNN had reported, which was that Air Force One had crashed and everyone had died. I’m not sure the executives at CNN are self-aware enough to realize that even though their network gets plenty of attention in this movie, they're depicted as going live with such unreliable information that they declare the President DEAD. That's probably not something I'd like in my cable news.

What a terrible movie. They couldn't even spell 'cognition' correctly.

Back on the plane, the President being captured allows us to finally have the Kick-Ass/Ivan face-to-face showdown we’d long been waiting for. You see, Ivan is a very excitable fellow. I think that when Gary Oldman, generally a fine actor, was told he was playing a Russian terrorist, he prepared for the part by watching Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons (or, through the miracle of time travel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), drinking forty cups of coffee, and studying chimpanzees in heat. Suffice to say that he’s somewhat disrespectful toward the President. The new situation convinces the Vice President to give in to the demands and have the Russians prepare to release Radek. Because Russia is such a good friend of the US that they’ll endure an inevitable war with a neighboring country. Quite touching, really.

Gary Oldman's nude performance art drew mixed reactions.

But as we all know, when the bad guys have the good guys tied up and held at gunpoint, someone just needs to loosen his hand restraints and leap at the villains at the right moment to enact an escape. Nope, no clever deception or multi-layered plan here: just cut that tape with a shard of broken glass and start issuing five-fingered vetoes. President Kick-Ass does just that, killing two of the remaining terrorists and getting rescued when the suddenly-heroic Mashed Potato Face throws himself in front of an incoming bullet. In a scene not remotely resembling the end of Die Hard, Ivan stands at the back of the plane, equipping a parachute and threatening to throw the hero’s wife out the back if he doesn’t back down. How the President overcomes this situation is too generic to describe, although the method of killing Ivan is fairly amusing: he strangles him with his own parachute cord and tells him, “Get off my plane!” I would have had him say something like, “Your supermajority‘s all gone, and you just got vetoed!” or “No pardon for you!” but I clearly take this movie even less seriously than the filmmakers did. With the good guys back in control of Air Force One, they no longer need to have the Russians release Radek, which means the Russians get to shoot him dead as he tries to board his helicopter. Maybe they should have done something like that a while ago.

But don’t think this is over! The movie’s only at about the 90-minute mark, and we need more special effects shots to use in the trailers! So as the President flies Air Force One back away from Kazhakstan, Kazhak fighters start shooting at them, clearly authorized to instigate all-out-war against the US despite the lack of any remaining possible gain. A squadron of US fighters takes them out, and one brave pilot even sacrifices himself by flying in front of a missile, kind of like the scene three minutes ago where the Mashed Potato Face jumped in front of the bullet. They cut out the scene that further escalated this theme, where Delaware saved the President by leaping in front of an ICBM for him. In any event, the shootout leaves Air Force One very damaged, out of parachutes, and unable to reach a friendly air base before it’ll run out of fuel.

"I told you to press the red, blue, and yellow buttons! You pressed the red, blue, and green buttons! Now let me see you do it right!"

So they rig a solution whereby, during the last few minutes before they run out of fuel, a military plane connects to Air Force One via a giant zip line, and marines will be zipped down onto Air Force One, and then the remaining people will be zipped back out the other way. People get evacuated one-by-one this way, including Mashed Potato Face, who apparently gets to both be heroic and survive the movie. President Kick-Ass, being a good guy in charge of a military that takes his safety as more of a recommendation than an imperative, is among the last to go. However, Air Force One is sinking too fast, so Caldwell, a marine, Gibbs, and the President are left aboard with only time to get one more zipped back to the safety of the other plane. So Gibbs finally reveals his true colors and shoots the marine and Caldwell; they just had to kill off the most likable supporting character at the last minute. Once again, there’s a generic struggle that Gibbs loses, and the President zips his way off the plane before it goes down, crashing into the ocean with computer-generated special effects that rival those when you get shot down in Star Fox. The President’s safe, so the music’s triumphant, people in Washington are cheering, and the fact that dozens of Americans have died--perhaps more than if the President had ejected from the plane and they’d shot it down in the first place--is swept under the rug.

"Mr. President, no, I don't think hiding in an asteroid field is practical."

On its face, Air Force One doesn’t seem so bad. It’s a generic summer action blockbuster with the nifty premise of Harrison Ford as a president who beats up terrorists himself. And it’s not THAT much worse than what you’d expect from that description, except that it’s got an unusually high number of lazy plot contrivances, its mid-air special effects have aged poorly, its musical score is so generic that it’s really quite breathtaking (Wikipedia notes that Jerry Goldsmith was hired to write it at the last second, so I guess he‘s not to blame), and the movie kills off so many good guys so periodically that it’s oddly depressing, even when it’s supposed to be uplifting. The parts where President Kick-Ass and my mentally-inserted Jack Bauer teamed up to torture terrorists were among the few highlights.

"Control, this is Sullenberger. Didn't go quite as well this time. Over."

So it’s not a particularly notable movie, and I don’t have anything against any of the people involved; most of the actors are capable of being very good, and do all right here, and most of the prominent crew (except screenwriter Andrew Marlowe, who might have peaked with either this or Hollow Man) have all worked on movies I’ve liked. It’s just a perfectly normal bad movie, offending none of my sensibilities except that I prefer to see things that are good.

So, um, that’s it. It’s a bad movie. That’s my conclusion. Yep.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

COMING SOON: Air Force One

In eager anticipation of the sequel, Air Force Two: Biden, Biden Birdie.