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Non-Review Review: Executive Decision

Are you manly? I mean really manly? In a way, Executive Decision is kinda what I was hoping for when I heard about The Expendables. It’s not an excellent movie, or even an exceptional one – in fact, it can be cynically described as Die Hard on a plane” – but it’s a perfectly serviceable action movie that gets bonus points for never trying to be anything more than what it is. There’s not tangential romantic plot or half-hearted attempts at characterisation: the movie is all business. And that business is attempting to give its audience testosterone poisoning. 

Not quite plane sailing ahead...

 

The plot, as much as it is, follows the hi-jacking of a commercial airline by a bunch of Islamic extremists, given about as much backstory and definition as the generic terrorists in a random eighties film. A bunch of badass military commandos (and a token selection of scientific-minded civilians) mount a dangerous attempt to retake the plane mid-flight. And hijinks ensue. 

In fairness, the movie really falls in the “does exactly what it says on the tin”. Anybody looking for a movie to offer an in-depth exploration of the situation in the Middle East will be disappointed. As will anyone expecting an exploration of the moral dilemma suggested by the movie’s title – will the President choose to shoot down an airline full of civilians to save would could be a greater number of lives on the ground? – will undoubtedly feel a little cheated that the problem is only really vaguely touched upon rather than fully explored. Still, that’s probably the type of query of executive authority best left to The West Wing. Let’s face it, anyone watching this is watching it for the ass-kicking. 

The movie boasts a fairly conventional “hostage” scenario, but with a twist – this time it’s on an airplane. It’s really hard to think of a more remote or isolated location (save, you know, space) – it’s an effective way of isolating our cast of experienced (and inexperienced) troops. It’s a premise which would admittedly be used much more effectively during the even more patriotic Air Force One, but it’s interesting enough to give the film an appear that most similar films would love to have. 

There are a few more cleverly-orchestrated tricks the film uses that help distinguish itself from the more straightforward action films out there. There is, for example, a fantastic bait-and-switch within the first half-hour which I won’t ruin. It’s a few small tricks like that which help disguise what is essentially a standard action movie plot, right down to the climactic confrontation and bad ass one liners. Although Executive Decision doesn’t necessary make any major changes to the playbook, it shakes things up enough to keep it at least interesting. 

I've done "Die Hard on a boat", "Die Hard on a train", so "Die Hard on a plane" seemed like the next logical step...

 

Another major part of the movie’s appeal is the cast. Sure, it isn’t the greatest cast in the history of film, but still… I’m a sucker for Kurt Russell – and fonder of Stephen Segal than most. Even the supporting cast – Joe Morton, John Leguizamo, B.D. Wong, Halle Berry, J.T. Walsh, Armand Assante, Andreas Katsulas and Oliver Platt – is pretty impressive. You’re not going to be convinced that the Oscar results for that year need overturning, but it’s nice to see even mindless action movies when performed by a cast who know what they are doing. 

A lot of the movie is hokum – and it’s not even especially fantastic hokum, either. The soundtrack screams “patriotism!” at the top of its voice. There are lots of shots of the military apparatus at work. When a terrorist discovers his boss’s evil plan (hint: it involves nerve gas), he declares that “this is not the will of Allah!”, as if to suggest that Allah was perfectly okay with taking the airplane hostage in the first place. There’s more than a fair bit of poorly thought-out logic at play. 

However, the film is what it is. And unapologetically so. It isn’t fancy or attempting to be anything more. It’s good guys and bad guys on the plane. It’s Snakes on a Plane, but with Islamic extremists instead of terrorists. It’s a team of military commandos on a commercial airliner. It was the first time that Oceanic Airlines saw their stock take a plunge (but not the last – no wonder they needed an “Oceanic Six” style publicity campaign in Lost). It’s a generic action movie which doesn’t pretend that it is any deeper than it is. 

And, sometimes, that’s just about enough. 

Smell the testosterone. Even the token science nerd is Kurt freakin’ Russell.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s been a while but I remember quite enjoying it. I like Passenger 57, too, which has a similar vibe. Servicable is fine, not every movie has to vie for greatness. But this one looks like an Oscar winner compared to Expendables.

  2. Executive Decision is not bad at all despite having Steven Segal who really is a bit of a joke as far as acting goes. It’s definitely a movie of its time but Kurt Russell sold it to me and although nothing great, I don’t mind watching it once every other year or so lol

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