Executive Decision, directed by Stuart Baird and produced by Joel Silver, has many things going for it. For one, it has Kurt Russell who always shines as a quick-witted, precise, and energetic action hero. Two, it features an aging Steven Seagal who still appeals despite the fact that he hasn’t learned to act. Three, the majority of the action is orchestrated on a hijacked 747 carrying a nerve toxin capable of eradicating the Eastern Seaboard. Finally, the writers work exhaustingly to ratchet the tension until the film’s final, explosive minutes. There really is plenty to enjoy here, but that doesn’t change the fact that this uninventive and rote thriller could easily be overlooked in the sub-genre of “Airplane Thriller.”

Russell plays an Intelligence Analyst named Dr. David Grant. When the Secretary of Defense discovers that an airplane has been hijacked by Islamist extremists, he commissions Grant to breakdown the how, where, and why. Grant deductively reasons that the hijackers took over the plane for two reasons:

1. To barter the release of an extremely dangerous terrorist leader.

2. Deliver a payload of a fictional neurotoxin to the heart of Washington D.C.

Lt. Colonel Austin Travis, played by none other than Mr. Steven Seagal, wastes no time. His plan: Gather a team of professionals (soldiers, an engineer, and Dr. Grant) and use a highly sophisticated spy plane to link with and sneak aboard the 747. This plan, seemingly foolproof, finds few of the team worried.

As in many ’90s action movies, the constant proliferation of positive outlook invariably results in the worst possible outcome. When the linkage between planes begins to weaken, thought goes out the window and impulse takes it place. Therefore, Dr. Grant as well as the engineer, Dennis (Oliver Platt), get stuck aboard the 747 as the spy plane and Travis plummet towards earth. I truly found it ingenious that they offed Seagal’s character so early on. It was one of the few moments that really took me by surprise.

The rest of the film takes place aboard the plane. Below, Grant and his team slink among the shadows and decide the best time to strike. Above, sits a sexy stewardess (Halle Berry) who aids his team anyway she can and a ruthless Algerian terrorist named Nagi Hassan (David Suchet) who leads a host of other baddies that all have specific roles in their aid to free their terrorist king. Specifics don’t matter because the surprises and suspense are what make the film so enthralling. Sure, you can see the end coming from a mile away and there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but it’s handled with such deft care that it left me breathless. I knew the good guys were going to win in the end, but I nonetheless couldn’t wait to see it happen.

It’s obvious that when a film begins with a pilot in training that this very same character will be called upon in a time of desperation. While a flagrant setup, this is part of what makes Executive Decision so fun. The film has serious undertones, but I still never felt that it took itself too seriously. It was an interesting balancing act, one that was very self aware and it was obvious that the filmmakers went to great lengths to create something entertaining. While the film is by no means special, it’s an absolute riot to watch — the perfect popcorn flick.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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