As a fan of adventure/thriller/nuke films (which provenance ought to make clear are always of the B variety), I am willing to leap over any number of realities in order to join the fun, but I do have to retain some belief that there is ground at the takeoff point.
War Games: kid hacks into government computer (believable) and inadvertently starts countdown to nuclear war (leap). Red October: Soviet sub captain seeks to defect (believable) along with innovative tech (ehhh. . .) and American analyst figures this out in time to help him (leap). Peacemaker: corrupt Russian soldiers hijack a ten-pack of nukes to sell (believable) and only the Americans figure this out (ehhh. . .) in time (leap). The Sum of All Fears: Israel loads a nuke onto a plane during the ’73 war, which, after having been shot down, is left to be found 29 years later (skid to a stop at the edge).
The Israelis don’t recover a lost nuke? No. No no no no no no no.
The opening scene already doesn’t make sense—Israel is invaded and overrun, so sends aloft a solo-piloted fighter jet with a nuke, which is shot down when the pilot is distracted by a photo of his family and thus sees a missile too late—not least because no mention is made of the purpose or destination of such a flight. More to the point, that the Israelis would lose track of a nuclear missile and apparently just shrug their shoulders at the loss requires not a leap of faith but a stumble into stupidity.
Of course, once the viewer folds her arms and raises her eyebrows, the rest of the events can only be viewed with snorts.
It’s too bad, really, because loose nukes are a fine premise on which to build a movie; then again, The Sum of All Fears relies yet again on Nazis (Alan Bates, underused; et. al.) as the bad guys, aided by an amoral and cosmopolitan arms dealer (Colm Feore, also underused). This movie was released in 2002: do we still need Nazis as the Big Bads? And are all arms dealers sophisticated foreigners with a chilling accent?
They also stole a line from The Peacemaker (I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear missiles, colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one):
President: Let’s see, who else has 270,00 nukes for us to worry about?
CIA Director Cabot: It’s the guy with one I’m worried about.
I did enjoy James Cromwell as the president and Liev Schreiber as an apparently worn-out assassin-spy, and Ciarán Hinds has such a magnificent face how could I not want to watch him? Ben Affleck once again demonstrated his limited skills as an actor, although the role hardly demands anything of interest from him. And Morgan Freeman as Cabot, hell, it’s Morgan Freeman; I originally mistook him as the president.
A waste all around.
The filmmaker would have been better to take the lead from the ridiculous premise and jettisoning any relationship to realipolitik whatsoever. Ditch the Tom Clancy-solemnity and substitute a gleeful malice instead—now that might have been fun to watch.