In the 1997 film, Strategic Command, Richard Norton plays a terrorist named Carlos …. wait for it …. Gruber. If that last name sounds familiar, that’s because the villain of Die Hard was named Hans Gruber and the bad guy from Die Hard With A Vengeance was named Simon Gruber. Gruber — the number one name in hostage situations!
Anyway, Carlos Gruber and his fellow terrorists steal a chemical called Bromax from the FBI. Bromax is a chemical weapon, one that can be used to kill thousands of people. It’s probably not a good idea for anyone to have Bromax, regardless of whether they are terrorists or the FBI. What’s the point of Bromax, really? It only has evil purposes. Plus, it has a stupid name.
Gruber proceeds to hijack Air Force Two, holding the Vice President (Michael Cavanaugh) and several journalists hostage. Gruber wants his fellow terrorists to be released from prison and he’s prepared to kill the Vice President if he doesn’t get what he wants. Perhaps because Gruber realizes how little the Vice President actually does, Gruber is also willing to spray Bromax over America.
Not wanting to see America get Bromaxed, the President sends an elite force of special op. soldiers after Air Force Two. Captain Rattner (Jsu Garcia, back when he was still using the name Nick Corri) is in charge of the mission and he doesn’t expect there to be any slip-ups. Accompanying Rattner’s men is Rick Harding (Michael Dudikoff!), the inventor of Bromax! Along with not wanting to see Bromax sprayed over America, Harding also wants to save the life of his wife, Michelle (Amanda Wyss, who co-starred with Jsu Garcia in the original Nightmare on Elm Street). Michelle is one of the journalists on the plane.
Strategic Command is stupid, yet strangely likable. It’s impossible not to admire the film’s attempt to be a huge action epic without actually spending any money. As a result, Air Force 2 is a commercial airliner. There’s a surprisingly small number of people involved on both sides of the plot. The viewer might expect the hostage situation to be one of those big, “all hands on deck” emergencies but, instead, the President is content to send 6 people to get the job done. Fortunately, there aren’t that many terrorists either. This is action on a budget.
Adding to the film’s overall strangeness is the miscasting of Michael Dudikoff as a quiet and somewhat nerdy scientist. This is one of those films where the viewer is meant to assume that a character is smart just because he’s wearing glasses. Dudikoff is so miscast that, again, it all becomes strangely likable. He and Richard Norton are so enthusiastic about chewing up the scenery that it’s kind of fun to watch. Also fun to watch is the legitimate great actor Bryan Cranston, cast here as a vain and cowardly anchorman. One gets the feeling that this is probably not a film that Cranston brags about but his performance isn’t bad at all. Every film like this needs to have a self-important reporter who can get humiliated in some fashion and Cranston handles the role like a pro.
Strategic Command is dumb but kind of fun, in the way that many 90s direct-to-video action films tend to be. It’s a good film for when you want to watch something that won’t necessarily require your full attention. In fact, the less thought one gives to what happens in Strategic Command, the better. Watch it for Dudikoff, Norton, and especially the one and only Bryan Cranston!