Crisis Situations

Executive Decision

area theaters

It's My Party

Lagoon Cinema

A FUNNY THING happens to dumb mainstream films like Executive Decision once they've topped the box office: They become worth taking seriously. While the new breed of anti-thinking reviewers are correct that studio movies intend mainly to make money (read: "entertain"), it's also true that no studio movie has ever done so without first tweaking or stroking our psyches. Thus, the disastrous Decision means to rouse age-old fears about Middle Eastern terrorism, and then whisk them away by sending another dick-swingin' Caucasian to the rescue. From the Airports to the Die Hards, disaster movies allegorize societal collapse in order to offer a great white hope. But if all really were Right with our nation and its leaders, why would Hollywood executives need to risk so much money in order to prove it?

In other words, Executive Decision unwittingly acknowledges what it tries to deny: namely, the inroads made by women and people of color. Why else would this airborne opus strain to reveal the underlying virility of a computer-geek Pentagon analyst (Kurt Russell, wearing glasses), while relegating each of its non-white characters to supporting roles, and its sole professional women to making sure that all seats and tray tables are in their locked and upright positions? You'd think there would at least be a stupid female newscaster in the mix, but there isn't.

Some critics have praised the multiculti makeup of the film's antiterrorist crew (John Leguizamo, B.D. Wong, Joe Morton), who, with the help of a black flight attendant (Halle Berry), hide in the bowels of a hijacked 747 to thwart an insane Islamic fundamentalist bomber (David Suchet). But these guys are hired hands at best--following orders, sustaining injuries, and spouting one-liners like "I hope there's a good movie on this flight!" (Fat chance.) Morton, who played the black man obliged to die in T2, here gets his vertebrae broken and spends most of the film on a stretcher, giving wire-cutting advice to another white nerd-turned-hero (Oliver Platt). The rewards for the members of this rainbow coalition are justly proportional. At the end, Russell sheds his wimpy eyewear, learns how to land a jumbo jet, and earns a climactic salute from his crew; the black stewardess gets invited out for a cup of coffee. By Hollywood standards, this is business as usual. But whose executive decision was it to send toy airplanes to us "objective" members of the press?

The crisis film for the arthouse crowd is It's My Party, which, in its fraudulent and self-congratulatory treatment of AIDS, makes Philadelphia look like Salt of the Earth. Eric Roberts plays a smug and cynical architect with terminal brain lesions caused by AIDS, who decides to kill himself with an overdose of sleeping pills at the end of a lavish two-day party attended by his friends (Bronson Pinchot, Margaret Cho), parents (Lee Grant, George Segal), and former lover (Gregory Harrison). The chief insult of It's My Party is not that it sports some highly unappealing actors (or is that the characters?); a surplus of implausible and inappropriate sitcom humor; and so many attempts to jerk tears that it creates the opposite effect. Rather, it's the movie's palatable phoniness: the way in which it equates enlightened dignity with selfish non-activism, and represents the casualties of this violent pandemic with a rich guy who remembers a special ski trip before going willfully and oh so gently into that dark night.

One more thought on disaster movies and impending doom: Last weekend I was treated to 10 minutes of FX-laden mayhem from the forthcoming Independence Day, in which pissed-off aliens from another planet invade our airspace, disrupt the flow of traffic, and eventually blow the White House to smithereens. It's too early to say whether this outrageously ambitious summer blockbuster will be "good" or not, but it does promise to open a treasure chest of subtexts: the fear of foreign enemies and/or the longing for full-on war; the fantasy of watching old regimes go up in flames and the desire to hit "reset" and start again under new leadership (Will Smith stars as an alien-busting Marine captain); and the hope of putting international disputes aside in order to come together as fellow Earthlings. In that Independence Day is almost certain to be experienced by the majority of the Western world, its perspective on our fragile planet will be worth mulling over. Or perhaps you'd prefer to think it's only a movie.

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