Screenplay : Jim Thomas and John Thomas
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Kurt Russell (David Grant), Halle Berry (Jean), John Leguizamo (Rat), Oliver Platt (Cahill), Joe Morton (Cappy), David Suchet (Nagi Hassan), B.D. Wong (Louie), Steven Seagal (Lt. Col. Austin Travis )
Everybody has to make decisions every day, some more important than others. Government officials are usually faced with the hardest decisions in the world because what they decide affects not only them and those close to them, but millions of people they have never met. In addition, they have political and social pressures bearing down on them, and their decisions have to be molded from a variety of circumstances and possibilites.
This is the conflict at the heart of the new Joel Silver-produced political action-thriller, "Executive Decision." A group of extreme Islamic terrorists seize control of a 747 with more than 400 "American lives" on board and demand that a political prisoner in U.S. custody be released. The trick is that plane may or may not be loaded with a bomb and enough nerve gas to wipe out half of the Northeastern coast, and the terrorists may or may not plan to detonate it over Washington, D.C. So the secretary of defense (the President is conveniently out of the country) is faced with the dilemma: destroy the plane and sacrifice 400 Americans, or wait it out and see if the terrorists actually have the nerve gas, possibly risking millions more.
Enter the special elite commando force that offers another possible option. Making use of Tom Clancy-ish technology involving a super plane that can fly under the 747 and attach an umbilical cord, the commandos plan to enter the plane undetected and take out the terrorists. But, of course, things go wrong and the government doesn't know that the commados are stuck on the plane, hiding in all the nooks and crannies a 747 has to offer above and below the passenger cabin. These guys manage to find more air ducts and elevator shafts on one plane than Bruce Willis found in a 40-story skyscraper in "Die Hard" (1988).
The commando team finds its leadership in David Grant, played by Kurt Russell. He is actually an intelligence officer who ends up in the plane by mistake. The team was originally led by Lieutenant Austin Travis, played by none other than Steven Seagle in an absolutely wasted minor supporting role. As an actor, he draws so much attention to his presence that the audience is sure he will have something to offer the plot, although he never does. An old conflict begins to arise between him and Russell, but Seagle is ushered out of the film in the first twenty minutes so nothing important can develop.
This film seems to enjoy wasting good talent and making some of the strangest casting choices in recent memory. The beautiful Halle Berry looks worthless in her role as a brave flight attendant who helps the commandos, a role all too reminiscent of Sandra Bullock in "Speed" (1994).
The commando team itself is the most ethically diverse group to ever come across a movie screen. The second-in-command is played by John Leguizamo, an extremely talented comedic and dramatic actor best known for his HBO special "Spic-O-Rama." He is a diverse actor to be sure, but he just doesn't look right as an elite force captain. Another solider is played by B.D. Wong, best known as Martin Short's goofy assistant in "Father of the Bride" (1991), and as the homosexual cook in "The Freshman" (1990). How he got this role is anybody's guess. The always memorable Oliver Platt turns in a good, nerve-wracked performace as a computer engineer who also winds up in the mix and finds himself having to dismantle the bomb.
"Executive Decision" marks the directorial debut of Stuart Baird, a noted action movie editor who worked on films like "Demolition Man" (1993) and "The Last Boy Scout" (1991). This movie feels like a strange hybrid of modern action films and the infamous '70s disaster pictures. It has obvious elements of "Die Hard" and "Speed," but also borrows plot points and atmosphere from movies like "Airport" (1970) and "The Cassandra Crossing" (1976).
The movie opens with a series of confused, seemingly disjointed scenes taking place all over the world from Greece to London. It seems to bring up more questions than could possibly be answered in a two-hour movie, but all of the pieces start to fall into place as the movie picks up speed. Unfortunately, it never gets really interesting or really tense until almost an hour has gone by. After that, the move becomes fairly involved and you might be surprised to find yourself clutching your arm rest a little too tightly.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat