Pop culture item consumed: Executive Decision, Kurt Russell’s fun, silly actioner, co-starring Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, J.T. Walsh (yay!), Steven Seagal, and John Leguizamo, not to mention Marla Maples (!). Falling firmly in the ancestry of enjoyable second-tier action flicks like The Peacemaker, Executive Decision is a popcorn movie centered around a thinking man’s action hero, Kurt Russell. If all “popcorn movies” were as good as this one, however, Pajiba would have about 25 percent less stuff to bitch about.
Executive Decision is notable largely for anticipating 9/11 — I’m not even kidding — and if Condoleezza and the Bushmaster were embarrassed about failing to read the famous intel memo presaging 9/11, just think how they must have felt the first time they turned on Starz in the middle of the night and saw this movie. “Ruh-roh,” Shrub might think, “the asshole who wrote Predator 2 knew terrorists were going to hijack planes and use them as weapons. Does Cheney know about this? Heh-heh-heh.”
Beverage consumed: The Abbey, consisting of orange juice, gin, and orange bitters. The Abbey is easy to make, and with only three ingredients, it fits the definition of a Pantheon Cocktail. I’m not convinced it’s all that, but it’s an amiable enough drink if you like cold citrus. We discussed bitters a couple of weeks ago in reference to the Old Fashioned, and I was itching to try out one of my Christmas gifts, a bottle of blood orange bitters. I’m a sucker for gin drinks I haven’t tried yet, so I tinkered around with the Abbey while catching up with a movie that would be a pretty good candidate for Pajiba’s Hangover Theater.
To prepare an Abbey, set the alarm for 5 a.m. so your significant other/ spouse/love slave can get his or her dead ass out of bed and squeeze some fresh orange juice for you. Several hours later, no earlier than mid-day, arise and proceed to the kitchen. Mix gin and orange juice on the rocks, in about the same proportions you would use for a screwdriver. I like equal measures of orange juice and liquor for both drinks, but that may be a bit strong on the gin for sensitive folk. Add several dashes of orange bitters — citrus bitters will do in a pinch, though the lime is a little out of place — and stir until icy cold. This is a recipe that may require some adjustments depending on your relative tolerance for the distinctive flavors of gin and bitters. If garnish is desired, finish with maraschino cherries or an orange slice, or both. Ah … unexpected and potent, like my bi-curious Little League coach.
Summary of action: Five years before 9/11, Hollywood demonstrated that even a fucking moron could predict that Arab terrorists might seize a jetliner and turn it into a suicide missile. How do I know this? Because Executive Decision was written by the Thomas brothers — John and Jim — Hollywood’s answer to the question, if there were Siamese twins conjoined at the clunky writing gland, what would they write? John and Jim Thomas are responsible for such opi as the Will Smith version of Wild, Wild West, the Owen Wilson version of Behind Enemy Lines, and the why-did-I-pay-$8-if-Connie-Nielsen-doesn’t-take-her-top-off version of Mission to Mars. These are terrible movies, but fortunately the version of the Thomas brothers responsible for the original Predator showed up to write Executive Decision.
Let’s see if this 1996 plotline sounds familiar to anyone in the Washington, D.C. metro area: A group of terrorists hijack an American jetliner bound for the U.S. capital. To the passengers and air traffic controllers it appears that the terrorists plan to use the hijacked plane to negotiate the release of another terrorist, but in actuality they intend to use the plane itself as a weapon of mass destruction by crashing it. (That’s not a spoiler — the plan is revealed early in the film.)
(Fun fact: The flight taken over by terrorists is Oceanic 343, the same phony airline name used in “Lost.” Trust me when I tell you that no one will be founding an airline named “Oceanic” any time soon.)
Led by the charismatic Nagi Hassan (prolific, reptilian character actor David Suchet), the terrorists have stowed a highly lethal chemical nerve agent on the plane. Hassan plans to crash the plane in Washington D.C., thereby dispersing the chemical agent and annihilating the local population. Because the flight originated in Athens, Greece, there is just enough time for an extremely urgent reaction by the U.S. government, beginning with rounding up terrorism expert David Grant (Kurt Russell) from a black tie dinner so that he can brief the Joint Chiefs on Hassan’s background — Grant is the only Western operative who even knows what Hassan’s voice sounds like.
Although the filmmakers play the hijacking plot fairly straight, the film is shot through with playful nods to the action movie genre. The irresistible sight of tuxedo-clad Kurt Russell lecturing a roomful of generals is one of numerous pokes at spy flicks and military suspense thrillers, and Russell shows a great deal of panache in taking on the Jack Ryan mantle of a civilian intelligence analyst thrust into a high-stakes hostage rescue. If you are susceptible to the charms of Kurt Russell — and I am — then this is probably a picture for you.
Based on his studies of the terrorist cell’s internal politics, Grant (Russell) puzzles out that a large-scale suicide bombing is likely in progress, leading the military to a desperate, Hail Mary gambit: A group of commandos, accompanied by Grant, will take off in an experimental plane designed for mid-air crew transfers, meet the inbound jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean, and sneak aboard to seize control. Aeronautics engineer Oliver Platt tags along to provide (a) advice on how to use the special plane and (b) timely comic relief, reminiscent of his role in Lake Placid. Not surprisingly, things don’t go as planned; the boarding attempt goes seriously awry, and Grant — still wearing his tux! — ends up in charge of the undermanned unit that actually makes it on to the jetliner.
Once on board, Grant manages to establish contact with a plucky flight attendant (Halle Berry), who helps him figure out the terrorist set-up in the passenger cabin, as well the likely location of the “sleeper agent,” a terrorist disguised as a passenger who actually controls the chemical weapon. Grant’s team is faced with a mercilessly tight timeline, however, because the U.S. government cannot allow the plane to land; if Grant doesn’t take over the plane before entering U.S. airspace, the Air Force will shoot it down to prevent dispersal of the chemical weapon on U.S. soil.
And that’s just the first 45 minutes. If this all sounds a little Hunt for Red October-ish, well, that’s because it’s absolutely derivative of that formula, from the analyst’s specialized expertise leading to insight into his adversary’s mind to that same desk analyst involuntarily turning field agent; from the prospect of being stalked by your own military to the race against time before entering U.S. territory. Without derivative, formulaic plotlines, however, there would be no awesome Hangover Theater movies, and Executive Decision functions quite effectively as an engaging action suspense movie. If gin isn’t your thing, just make a pitcher of screwdrivers and while away a Saturday afternoon watching Snake Plissken get his schwerve on.
And if all that isn’t enough to pique your interest, let me just toss this little cliché grenade: At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Grant is also an amateur pilot. Just ponder on the implications of that.
How well the pairing held up: Well, gin is the new black, so it goes with anything. Except maple syrup. And beer. Let’s not make that mistake again.
Tastes like: Two measures Kurt Russell pungent action hero miasma, two measures over-the-top Sunny D entertainment; add Oliver Platt wisecracks to taste.
Overall rating: Winner of the 1996 Prescient Pop Culture Dumbass Award.
Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to leave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executive Decision: Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton
Boozehound Cinephile | February 5, 2009 | Comments ()