Chain of Command (2000)

Rating:

USA. 2000.

Crew

Director – John Terlesky, Screenplay – Roger Wade, Producers – Paul Hertzberg & John Paul Pettinato, Photography – Maximo Munzi, Music – Joseph Stanley Williams, Visual Effects Supervisor – Adam Howard, Special Effects – Ultimate Effects (Supervisor – David Waine), Production Design – Gilbert Alan. Production Company – Cinetel Films Inc

Cast

Patrick Muldoon (Mike Connelly), Roy Scheider (President Jack Cahill), Ric Young (Ken Fung), Maria Conchita Alonso (Vice President Gloria Valdez), Michael Biehn (Craig Thornton), Sung Hi Lee (Iris), William R. Moses (Gary Phillips), Tom Wright (Burke), Michael Yama (Chairman Tzu), Michael Mantell (Lehman), Susan Blakely (Megan Danforth)


Plot

Mike Connelly is a Secret Service agent assigned to guard Jack Cahill, the newly elected President of the United States. On the way back from the election campaign, an assassin gets aboard Air Force One and tries to kill Cahill. Mike is wounded during the incident. Left traumatically affected by what happened, Mike is subsequently reassigned to guard The Football – the portable, suitcase-sized nuclear command controls that must be near The President’s side at all times. However, Mike is disdainful of guarding a President who is perpetually womanising and is preparing to quit the service. Meanwhile, China begins threatening Taiwan so President Cahill flies to a private meeting aboard the luxury yacht of his good friend Ken Fung to see if he can defuse the situation. Instead, Fung and his men eliminate all the Secret Service agents and take The President hostage with the intention of forcing him to use The Football to launch a nuclear strike against China and thus obtain Taiwan’s independence. Mike is the only Secret Service agent to survive and now has the single-handed responsibility of stopping Fung before a nuclear war is started.


Chain of Command comes from CineTel Films, a L.A.-based production company that specialises in action films. CineTel have previously made the likes of the Relentless series, Judgement Day (1999) and numerous other low-budget video and cable released action films, including various genre efforts as 976-Evil (1988), Guardian (2000) and Time Lapse (2001).

Chain of Command comes across as a would-be Tom Clancy adaptation – although one that lacks Clancy’s tightly wound thriller plotting. Indeed, there are more than a few similarities between Chain of Command and the later screen adaptation of Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears (2002). Perhaps you could see Chain of Command as falling somewhere between Fail-Safe (1964), a Tom Clancy film and being yet another screen copy of Die Hard (1988) – especially of a film like Under Siege (1992), which featured a very similar plot with Steve Seagal as a lone hero defending an aircraft carrier from terrorists wanting to hijack its nuclear arsenal. The plot here was almost entirely stolen (albeit relocated to the White House) in the big-budget Olympus Has Fallen (2013).

The action scenes in Chain of Command are competently conducted, although ultimately some of the scale of the film – the hijacking of a cruise liner, the detonation of a nuclear weapon – demonstrates that the film’s script is a good deal more ambitious than the B-budget it is being conducted on (even if Chain of Command is a more lavish production than most of CineTel’s other films). Certainly, you could quite easily see Chain of Command being conducted as a big spectacular A-budget film for cinema screens.

What makes Chain of Command a good deal more interesting than the average action film is the extra political dimension it has. First of all, there is Roy Scheider’s President who seems clearly modelled on Bill Clinton and his perpetual womanising. (The film gives the initial impression of being written by an ardent pro-Republican who holds Clinton’s womanising in contempt). There is a particularly captivating opening where we go from the two Secret Service agents making snide comments as Roy Scheider’s Presidential hopeful eyes another man’s wife during a tennis game, whereupon we abruptly cut to the two agents standing guard as Scheider bangs the woman in a toilet cubicle. The film however never quite develops this interesting contrast of a morally weak President and hero Patrick Muldoon’s disgust with him – the script later discards this disapprobation and requires us to stand with Roy Scheider as an heroic President who has the moral high ground and casting Patrick Muldoon as his saviour.

The other equally interesting political angle in the film, something that one could almost have been written from a contemporary headline, is of a Taiwanese villain who hijacks the US nuclear launch codes in an effort to force China to back off its frequent sabre-rattling stance over Taiwan’s stated independence. Chain of Command is surprisingly topical in this regard and moreover quite daring in its criticism of the hypocritical stance that the US has taken over Taiwan – of the US normalising trade relations with China during Clinton’s presidency despite China’s poor record on human rights, yet remaining strangely aloof when it comes to defending the free and open democracy of Taiwan from China’s belligerence. Here again Chain of Command never fully grapples with the political/moral complexities it draws up – it both depicting Roy Scheider’s President with disdain, yet also regarding him as a hero; it never entirely sure whether the nuclear-threatened China is a good guy that needs to be defended from the show’s villain or a bad guy for its strong-arm stance on Taiwan; and equally muddying the equation in regard to being unclear whether Taiwan’s independence is a good thing or whether such should be dismissed along with the villain’s demands. Nevertheless, this is an incisive political angle that is a surprising to find in an action film of any sort, a genre that usually unthinkingly supports American militarism without even the slightest second thought.

Director John Terlesky made a number of other video-released genre films usually with an action bent that include the thriller The Pandora Project (1998), the apocalyptic Judgment Day (1999), the possession/action film Guardian (2000), the serial killer thriller Malevolent (2002), the monster/action film Cerberus (2005), the monster movie Fire Serpent (2007) and the psycho-thriller By Appointment Only (2009).



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