If you don't give in to the movie's president-worship, there's little to enjoy except for William H. Macy (best known as the car salesman in Fargo), who etches an electric profile even in the 1-D role of a stalwart military man. Otherwise, the cast is full of name players who deliver trademarks rather than signature performances. Glenn Close redefines "no nonsense" as "no fun" in the role of the loyal vice president. Gary Oldman generates a spurious and risible intensity as the chief terrorist. His self-destructive fanatic gets so caught up in mouthing anti-capitalist platitudes in a Lower Slobovia accent that he fails to notice when the president grabs a useful shard, or when the first lady (Wendy Crewson) prepares to prove that she's one boomer wife who's kept up her Jane Fonda exercise program.
At the core is a fiasco of a script. The screenwriter, Andrew W. Marlowe, must shoulder the blame when an actor as talented as Dean Stockwell, in the role of the secretary of defense, can't clarify whether his character is a power-grabber or just a stickler for hierarchy; or, for that matter, when a director as proficient as Petersen simply tightens the screws terrorist-style, by having people shot at point-blank range. Air Force One resembles six two-reelers strung together: a serial posing as a feature, a cliffhanger without a cliff to hang on. When a movie is all climaxes, the returns diminish early. By the end, every climax is anti.