Cheesy, ’90s action movies are put under the microscope in the frighteningly timely podcast ‘Unclear and Present Danger’

TV & Film May 29, 2022
Unclear and Present Danger podcast art
Listen to ‘Unclear and Present Danger’

Nothing hits the spot quite like a ’90s movie. There’s something for everyone. Teen movies were reaching their peak with the likes of Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. Films like Good Will Hunting, The Truman Show, and Goodfellas were changing cinema as we knew it. And sci-fi was truly outdoing itself with Men In Black and Mars Attacks!

But, there was one other genre of film that fully encapsulates what the 1990s was like: cheesy, post-Cold War action thrillers. And “Unclear and Present Danger” is exploring what that time was like through the era’s wildest action films.

Because this podcast is relatively new to the podcasting sphere and episodes are released every other week, there are just a handful of episodes of “Unclear and Present Danger” so far. Episodes are just 75 minutes long and, like many other film podcasts, focus on one movie at a time.

If that sounds ultra-nerdy, we know, it is. But, it’s also really interesting. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and writer John Ganz (who is currently working on a book on American politics in the ’90s) are watching those ’90s post-Cold War movies that show how society adjusted to new world — a world that technically wasn’t under the constant threat of nuclear destruction.

Both hosts grew up in this time period, too young to understand global politics of the time but old enough to remember watching these films. These movies are a time capsule showing how Americans came to terms with being the world’s lone superpower (for a time).

The two began “Unclear and Present Danger” with the original Jack Ryan franchise (not the John Krasinski movies – why must we keep remaking franchises with different actors?), The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.

In each episode, they give a quick but sufficiently detailed synopsis of the plot, pointing out particularly interesting details like the political officer that Sean Connery’s character kills being named Putin in the first film. Weird. Really weird. They discuss the Hollywood-ified political messaging that came from these films while also looking at the source material’s (in this case, Tom Clancy’s) original messaging.

Bouie and Ganz look at these movies with the power of hindsight and see if anything in the American collective consciousness has truly changed. They ask if these movies could have been made even five years earlier or later based on America’s perception of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. They look at the cultural and political movements happening in the United States in the 1990s and find them reflected in these films.

While this podcast feels exceptionally smart when it comes to movies that can be described as Dad Thrillers, “Unclear and Present Danger” digs into the political context that has faded and been reshaped over three decades. Bouie and Ganz are both two great writers and political thinkers who truly shine in this medium. They are shining a fascinating new light on beloved ’90s films and have created a uniquely entertaining podcast.

What we’ve truly learned from this podcast is that you can never take a cheesy movie too seriously. Whether you’re a film nerd or a history buff or you’re looking for an understanding of today’s current events between Russia and the rest of the world, “Unclear and Present Danger” fulfills every desire. Bouie and Banz are thoughtful, funny, deeply knowledgable on seemingly everything, and know how to keep listeners engaged.

Nothing better encapsulates the 1990s than its cheesy action movies and that refreshing feeling of not being on the brink of nuclear war. Be sure to check out “Unclear and Present Danger.”

Listen to ‘Unclear and Present Danger’

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