By Marc S. Sanders
A commercial passenger plane carrying a bomb with enough explosives to wipe out the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been hijacked. Fortunately, Steven Seagal has come up with an idea to get his squad of commandos on board and contain the threat. It’s also a blessing that in the first twenty minutes of Executive Decision, Seagal dies during the midair transfer. There! I spoiled it for you. I’m not big on spoilers, but this is worth it because I believe it’ll entice you even more to watch this scrappy, under the radar action picture directed by Stuart Baird.
Before all of the action gets started, Kurt Russell makes his introduction attempting to land a small plane during a flying lesson. I wonder if that’ll play into the story later. Hmmm!!!! Russell plays David Grant, a consulting analyst for the US Army. Dressed in his tuxedo, he’s swept up from a dinner party and informed of the terrorist hijacking at play. Grant is familiar with the lead terrorist and his ideals. For whatever reason he’s instructed to board a specialized jet with Seagal’s crew. This jet carries a tube that will attach to the hull of the captive plane in midflight. The soldiers will climb aboard and go to work. Complications ensue though, and after that harrowing scene is over, four members of the elite squad (one becomes paralyzed) have made it on board along with Grant and the design engineer (Oliver Platt) of the jet. Now the fun begins.
Baird invests a lot of moments with the commandos (led by John Leguizamo) sneaking around, and drilling small holes in the ceiling and floorboards of the plane to insert tiny cameras and get a look at the activity going on. Every so often the terrorists threaten or give scary looks and we hope they don’t look down that hallway or in the elevator shaft. The bomb also has to be deactivated but it’s never as easy as knowing to cut the blue or red wire, and there’s a “sleeper” passenger who can detonate the bomb by remote. Where on the plane is that guy, though? As well, the government debates with shooting down the plane of 400 passengers before it reaches America. So, there’s a lot going on here. Kurt Russell is especially good as a “work the problem” kind of leader who manages to earn the assistance of a flight attendant (Halle Berry). We may know how this standard story will end up. However, that doesn’t mean the journey can’t keep us on pins and needles.
Executive Decision is never boring. It’s engaging from beginning to end, even if we’ve seen this very basic formula countless times before. Credit has to go to Stuart Baird and his lengthy experience as a film editor (the Superman and Lethal Weapon films), as well as the cast. Kurt Russell is always reliable with upholding the tension of a situation. Like Harrison Ford, he’s really good at playing the everyman caught up in a jarring, nerve-wracking situation. Look at his film Breakdown for further evidence.
Beyond Seagal’s early demise, the most amusing part of Executive Decision is watching Marla Maples Trump as another flight attendant emoting the worst panicked expressions for Halle Berry to act off. Marla never delivers a single word of dialogue. Even in 1996, long before the Trump name became regarded for many other reasons I need not discuss here, this likely unintended joke generated so much amusement for me, personally. It must be seen to be believed.
That being said. Don’t watch Executive Decision just for Marla Maples Trump and Steven Seagal. Watch it for the taut, suspenseful story it is, with a fantastic lead role performance from Kurt Russell, a solid supporting cast and a gripping assembly of tension from Stuart Baird.