Executive Decision (1996)
Executive Decision (1996)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: March 15th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Stuart Baird Actors: Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Joe Morton, David Suchet, BD Wong, Andreas Katsulas, Mary Ellen Trainor, J.T. Walsh




n 1995 in Trieste, Italy, a U.S. Special Forces counterterrorist strike team descends upon a suspected Chechen Mafia safehouse to recover stolen DZ-5 Soviet nerve toxin. In the lead is Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis (Steven Seagal), who stealthily stabs all the bad guys in the neck before spraying machine gun fire indiscriminately throughout the mansion that they’re penetrating. Unfortunately, the deadly chemical weapon is not recovered. During this opening sequence, Seagal doesn’t even get a line of dialogue, perhaps because he can be taken more seriously when he doesn’t have to worry about the troublesome act of acting.

Three months later, after some complications with warring terrorists in the Middle East, Oceanic Flight 343 from Greece is hijacked by extremist Nagi Hassan (David Suchet). In exchange for releasing an imprisoned commander, Abu Jaffa (Andreas Katsulas), Hassan will free the 400 or so hostages. But Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell), a U.S. Army Intelligence consultant, believes that Nagi’s real motive is to use the civilian airliner, full of the DZ-5, as a tactical weapon against the United States, whose border will be reached within eight hours.

Right from the start, there’s some problems with the editing. What appears to be a flashback is actually current events shown in a montage – which is then recapped in a news report. There are also numerous scenes set in different countries, making what could have been a simple hijacking setup grow needlessly complex, while multiple command centers and bases and groups of antiterrorism agents further muddy up the premise. And that premise is fairly generic itself, borrowing liberally from just about every actioner from the ’80s and early ’90s (perhaps taking most recognizably from “Die Hard” and “Speed,” though “Executive Decision” would come out during the same year as “The Rock” and a year before “Air Force One”).

Although the film could be summed up as just one of the many “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond styled endeavors, “Executive Decision” takes itself very seriously and, though filled with action movie tropes, never becomes a joke. It’s thrilling, routinely, and sincere in its execution. Additionally, in a particularly surprising twist, one of the two starring action heroes makes an exit early on, favoring a protagonist duo that includes flight attendant Jean (Halle Berry) – a strong, brave, impressive female character.

The picture also manages some amusing suspense, not only with a few failed attempts to best the terrorists, but also with many near-misses and nerve-wracking opportunities for the heroes to be caught by the gunmen. Even during a moment when a character is winched up through an airplane elevator, there’s an undeniable increase in tension; surely someone is going to fall through the ceiling and onto an armed goon. Plus, the hi-tech gadgetry (such as the Remora aircraft used to get soldiers onto the plane, or the fancy bomb, full of detonation and tamper-proof jargon) is useful for ramped-up anxiety. Adding more complications are a possible sleeper agent, bomb-diffusing difficulties, terrorist infighting, and political maneuvering. With extra tricks and some excellently placed comic relief, the slightly overlong runtime doesn’t get in the way of the film’s sense of adventure. And with a superb showdown and finale, “Executive Decision” becomes one of the best of the lesser-known hijack movies.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10