Real terrorist plots tend to have two steps: blow stuff up, take credit. Maybe if they're feeling creative they'll blow themselves up or light their shoe on fire first.
Action movie terrorists, on the other hand, like their plans to have as many interlocking steps as possible, like an intricate Rube Goldberg machine of death and maniacal cackling. Since we have entirely too much time on our hands, we're saluting the villains who contrived the most needlessly convoluted terror plots in action movie history.
Payne is a disgruntled ex-policeman who likes to blow stuff up. In Payne's defense, it's important to note that his last name is a homophone for "pain," so after he retired from his first career as a rogue cop, his options were pretty limited to professional wrestler and action-movie bad guy.
In Keanu Reeves movies, even bank robbers turn out to have convoluted M.O.s and bizarre, complex motives.
Don't all criminals rob banks to fund their search for the perfect wave?
It's the movie equivalent of a Mexican restaurant that distracts you from the low quality meat by piling on thick enchilada sauce and playing loud, embarrassing music whenever it's someone's birthday.
So what's it going to be, Payne? Dress up as Napoleon and rob the US Mint to fund your life's goal of snowboarding Mt. Everest?
Wait, you're going to blow up a public bus unless the cops give you what you want? That ... that actually might work. It's simple, to the point. Christ, it's like you're a real terrorist or something. Wait, why are you still talking? What do you mean the bus only blows up if it goes below 50 MPH? Goddamnit, that doesn't even make sense! Are you protesting the speed limit?
Of course, every bus will eventually go above 50 MPH and slow back down, so you still might be in the clear. You just need to make sure you keep your stupid loophole a secret until the bomb blows up. And not that we should have to tell you this, but when we say you shouldn't tell anyone, that includes the explosives expert who, despite his dazed expression and perpetually stoned manner of speaking, is the only person who's ever come close to being able to catch you.
You would want to keep him as far away from your convoluted, gaping loophole as possible. Agreed?
Why It Failed:
Goddamnit Payne, you told the bomb expert! In fact, he's the first person you told! And then you let him get on the bus and spend an hour and a half trying to figure out how to screw up your plot!
It's right around here where we have to stop questioning your intelligence and start questioning whether you want to be a terrorist at all.
Gary Oldman, in uber-evil mode with the black goatee.
Oldman and his crew gain access to Air Force One by disguising themselves as a Khazakistany news team in order to trick the President into looking at naked pictures of an obese woman.
Wait, wrong movie. In Air Force One they use the Khazakistany news team disguise to hijack Air Force One and take the President hostage. Apparently the secret service is approximately as easy to dupe as Pamela Anderson's security detail. But don't worry, the movie has all your, "Don't they do background checks on people they let onto Air Force One?" questions covered.
See, one of the secret service agents is in league with the terrorists. They're hoping you'll be too exhausted from that first question to ask follow up questions like, "Don't they do background checks on secret service agents?"
Regardless of the convoluted way he gets there, Oldman finds himself in control of the President, his family and more importantly an awesome plane with a kitchen and recliners about 20 minutes into the film.
This would be a pretty sizable bargaining chip in most cases. If we found ourselves with that sort of leverage, it would be about 30 minutes before our demands were met (all four of the mouths on the side of Mt. Rushmore now wrapped around cocks). But in this particular case, the President was only in Moscow in the first place to deliver a speech about how America DOESN'T NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.
And this just pisses him off more
Oldman seem to be under the impression that America is run by a team of 11-year-olds who only follow official policy until you threaten to hurt someone. Also, and here's where it gets really stupid, Oldman kidnaps the most closely guarded man on the planet in order to negotiate the release of a dictator who's being held by ... Russia. That's right, he's threatening to kill the President of the United States to scare a country that just spent the better part of a century glaring across the Bering Strait and muttering "motherfucker" under its breath.
Why It Failed:
The President turns out to be a total badass and kills all the terrorists. But there's a far simpler reason it fails: they didn't just kidnap the President of Russia. The country that has the guy they're after. The country where Russian terrorists like them would presumably know a few people. The country that, in the '90s, would have probably negotiated the release of a political prisoner for a BMW and a couple of Adidas track suits.
Like most terrorists you hear about on the news, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusak are a white middle-class couple who travel from town to town framing people for blowing up federal buildings.
For some reason, the first step in their plan is to get their neighbor Jeff Bridges to suspect that they're terrorists. So they drop subtle clues only Bridges will notice like leaving suspicious blueprints out when he comes by the house, and blowing their 12-year-old son's hand off.
Apparently the idea is that no one's going to believe the likable Jeff Bridges when he accuses typecast creep Robbins and his cold unattractive wife of anything untoward. And for some reason, that's exactly the brick wall of anti-logic he runs into every time he tries to point out that the couple next door are so obviously terrorists.
Why would anyone believe Bridges? He's just a college professor. Who teaches a course on domestic terrorism.
Robbins never explains what the sodomy has to do with anything
Somehow, the plan works. Bridges plays into their hands and follows a confusing trail of clues right up to the building they want him to blow up. It's a terror plot in the sense that going to Vegas and putting your life savings on the same number 10 times in a row is a financial investment strategy.
If you think we're being nit-picky here, don't just take our word for it. Roger Ebert wants some fucking answers too:
"How can anyone, even skilled conspirators, predict with perfect accuracy the outcome of a car crash? How can they know in advance that a man will go to a certain pay phone at a certain time, so that he can see a particular truck he needs to see? How can the actions of security guards be accurately anticipated? Isn't it risky to hinge an entire plan of action on the hope that the police won't stop a car speeding recklessly through a downtown area?"
He may look like an old lesbian, but Ebert has very little patience for bullshit terrorism.
Why It Failed:
Well, in a sense it doesn't. The whole thing goes off without a hitch. In another sense: What's the point of framing a college professor for your act of terrorism? Aren't terrorists supposed to have some reason they're blowing stuff up? A political reason maybe?
We're left to conclude that the terrorists in Arlington Road are fighting for the twin causes of awesome explosions and asinine twist endings. Mission accomplished, brothers.