General Radik (Jurgen Prochnow) has been captured by the United States and Russian military working in tandem, thus freeing the nation of Kazakhstan from his tyranny. That evening, the respective Presidents give speeches to the dignitaries attending a function in Moscow, and the American James Marshall (Harrison Ford) goes off script to deliver a warning to any terrorists who might be tuning in to the televised address that the States will no longer tolerate any of their illegal activities, and are now going to actively hunt them down. Brave words, but the terrorists may be closer than he thinks...
Long before Borat inflicted indignities on the nation of Kazakhstan, Air Force One depicted their land as a hotbed of insurgency that resulted in the life of the Leader of the Free World being put in grave danger, not to mention those of his family and staff. What happens is that a bunch of terrorists from that country want their general back from the Russian prison where he is held, and manage to wangle their way onto Marshall's official plane by posing as a news crew. They are led by Ivan Korshunov, played by the main British bad guy actor of the day, Gary Oldman, putting on his best East European accent and acting fanatical as only he could.
Of course, for all its moves to show what would soon be known as The War on Terror being brought far too close to home for Americans, it now looks almost, weirdly quaint in light of what the following decade would bring. Here was a fiction that painted its hero as the most powerful man in America, indeed in the world, and living up to that title by machine gunning the baddies who dared to stand up to him. The fact that he was played by Ford meant that the action could appeal to rightwingers while liberals could appreciate the earnest attempts to work out a diplomatic solution - and guiltily indulge in watching real nasty villains getting blown away, sometimes literally.
As it turned out, this was a substantial hit in its day, therefore proving the filmmakers right in pursuing their line in the more reasonable side of jingoism, or maybe it was that few were really taking it seriously and simply taking part in a spot of non-brain-bothering entertainment. The gimmick that the President was the action man rather than one of his (maverick) underlings might have been pretty daft, but director Wolfgang Petersen wasn't going to dwell on that when there were terrorists to be vanquished, along with one double agent (Xander Berkeley) who allows them access to the aeroplane's weapons stash and sets the main threat in motion. Trouble was, this wasn't either as excitiing or as diverting as it thought it was.
Essentially what we had here was a retread of the old Airport movies that Airplane! had laughed out of the sky, a venerable genre before that which had stretched back to the nineteen-fifties, especially as it lent itself to the kind of soap opera drama that this type of thing preferred. Here, on the other hand, the drama was more of the thriller variety as Ivan seized the aircraft and Marshall skulked about in the lower deck, working out his next move. Meanwhile, Ivan began picking off minor characters to show how he cared nothing for the lives of these Americans if it meant he could get his general back, and what had started out enjoyable enough got bogged down in negotiations with the character actors back at the White House and dragging out a plot that might have made a tight ninety minutes. Ford would have been a good movie President in another effort, but Air Force One simply called on him to be stressed and self-righteous, from which the rest of the film took its cue. Cheesy music by Jerry Goldsmith.