The 5 Most Needlessly Complex Terror Plots in Film History

The 5 Most Needlessly Complex Terror Plots in Film History

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.

Howard Payne from Speed

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.

The Plot:
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.

Egor Korshunov from Air Force One

Gary Oldman, in uber-evil mode with the black goatee.

The Plot:
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.

Oliver and Cheryl Lang from Arlington Road

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.

The Plot:
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.

Marine Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel from The Rock

In a nod to real events following the first Iraq War, Ed Harris is a Desert Storm vet who's been screwed over by the government for the last time, and sets out to get his just desserts with an operation he totally should have called "Just Desserts Storm."

The Plot:
And just like the real vets who tried to raise public awareness by staging protests and lobbying their representatives in Congress, Harris and his men ... steal missiles full of nerve gas, take all the tourists on Alcatraz hostage, and then threaten to kill every man woman and child in the city of San Francisco unless the US makes with some cash.

Fear not henchmen, Harris has thought this one through. As he explains to his men, "A couple of hundred years ago, a few guys called Washington, Jefferson and Adams were branded as traitors by the British, and now they're called patriots. In time so shall we."

For some reason, none of his men raise their hand here to point out that his plan involves killing a city full of innocent Americans. Or that this will probably be significantly less popular with Americans than the Revolutionary War. Or that you'd probably have a better chance of being called a patriot if you just waited for Ronald Reagan to die, jumped atop his coffin while Nancy was paying her final respects and turkey slapped her across the face.

Mr. Harris of course doesn't need to worry about long-term public perception since his plan unravels long before that. To begin with, it's all an elaborate bluff. Apparently his plan was to give the military a stern talking to, make a bunch of loud noise, get paid money, escape from Alcatraz and presumably ride a unicorn to Never Neverland.

If that second to last phase of the operation, escape from Alcatraz, sounds familiar its because they made an entire movie about the only people who ever did it successfully. The Rock implies Alcatraz is a good place to be when you're threatening the US military because it used to be the site of a military base, but as General Harris would know, the military gave up on using it as a base because it's a tiny shitty island in the middle of a bunch of cold shitty water. It's a great place to stick people you never want to see again, and an awful place to do absolutely anything else.

Why It Failed:
First of all, there are way too many things to keep track of: Invading black-ops teams, hostages, deadly tear gas, the wild card duo of Cage and Connery who are just hilariously mismatched enough to get the job done.

Adding insult to injury, all Harris had to do was wait a few years until the US government got involved in an unpopular sequel to Desert Storm, become an independent contractor and hold them hostage with ridiculous hourly rates.

Colonel Stuart from Die Hard 2

It's Die Hard, so instead of having semi-altruistic motives like General Hummel, Stuart is chasing that elusive Die Hard villain dream: Stealing enough money to buy his very own tropical island so that he can live out the rest of his days in seclusion with a bunch of creepy henchmen.

The Plot:
Die Hard terrorists have utilized increasingly ambitious canvases with each film, from a single high rise in the first to Dulles Airport in the second, New York City in the third and the entire country in the fourth. We're focusing on Stuart because, while not the most ambitious, his plan is certainly the most convoluted. And because the fourth was basically about a wizard who casts spells in computer jibberish, so he doesn't count.

Stuart on the other hand plans to take an entire airport hostage through good old-fashioned clockwork precision. He and his crew walk around Dulles in lock-step with each other, passing guns back and forth in gift wrapped boxes, and constantly checking their synchronized watches. Unfortunately, these aren't great strategies for blending into a crowd, and John McClane's extensive background in Christmas terror plot reconnaissance tells him something's up.

Stuart then overrides all communication between the air traffic control tower and the planes (he probably had an early version of the iPhone) and turns the lights out on the runway by having one of his men chop through a bunch of cords with an ax. If you think these actions are carried out with precision that is anything other than clock-like, you either don't know shit about clocks or Stuart. Or similes.

Now he has the whole country by the balls. With no lights on the runways, Stuart's able to lie to the pilots about their altitude and crash some motherfucking planes! It's truly a diabolical, air-tight plan.

... that only works if there's a blizzard. If it's a clear night the pilots are probably going to see one of the other million lights on the ground that he didn't turn off like the terminal and the air traffic control tower and the parking lot.

But you can't blame Stuart for gambling his entire plan on the one-in-a-million chance that there's a blizzard in Virginia on the day it goes down. He was probably busy with all the other details, like keeping the blank machine gun clips separate from the live rounds so that none of the guys who are working for him shoot each other. You know, during the elaborate fake machine gun battle on snowmobiles. The one that is supposed to throw McClane off their scent. You know, McClane, the guy the trailer specifically says nobody was counting on.

"Man, this plan would have sucked if it had been 20 degrees warmer."

Why It Failed:
It actually went pretty well. Stuart is able to take over the airport, the Pentagon conveniently sends the special ops team headed up by his mentor, a freak blizzard hits the confederate state where his operation is taking place. Also, only one good guy realizes that a huge bonfire on the runway gives the pilots a landing light bright enough to shine through the blizzard, effectively taking away Stuarts only bargaining chip. And that good guy doesn't realize it until the end of the movie.

Of course by that point, Stuart's watched his mentor get shit out the back of a jet engine and is himself used as kindling for the landing light. But, y'know. A for effort.

If you enjoyed that, you might like our rundown of 5 Kick Ass Action Movies That Are Pure Propaganda. Or head to the brand new Official Store and become a startlingly attractive walking advertisement for our site. And be sure to get the Cracked Hit List delivered in your electronic mailbox every Thursday. And be even surer to find out who made the cut in The Week in Douchebaggery.

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