Con-Air (1997) *1/2 out of ***** - Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John
Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney. Don Davis. Written by:
Scott Rosenberg. Directed by: Simon West. Running Time: 115 minutes.
Sometimes I just don't know what's worse: a movie that's bad from start to
finish, or a bad movie which every once in a while shows a moment of
creativity, but then returns to being bad. "Con-Air" falls into the latter
The plot, if you can call it one, is childishly simple. Convicts take over a
prison plane and attempt to escape to a foreign country. Good guys try to
stop them. That's it. The film's main hero is Nicolas Cage, a former US
Ranger who was sent to jail for accidentally killing a punk who was
attacking him and his wife. (I guess that jail sentence was to send a
message out to all people that accidentally killing a drunken hoodlum while
defending your family WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!) This of course is merely just
a gimmick to have a "good" guy on the plane when it gets hijacked. It just
so happens that Cage is being paroled, and is just trying to return home to
his wife and daughter.
The criminals who hijack the plane are John Malkovich, who plays Cyrus the
Virus. His nickname is unjustified, as he never does anything to seemingly
serve such a nickname. His assistant is Ving Rhames, who plays Diamond Dog.
His nickname is unjustified, as he never does anything to seemingly serve
such a nickname. Along the way they are joined by another criminal, Steve
Buscemi, who plays the Marietta Mangler. His nickname is unjustified, as he
never does anything to seemingly serve such a nickname. I think you can see
a trend here.
The problem with "Con Air" is that it must have been written by a four year
old. The "Oh Come On!" factor is high with this one, as more of the movie
progresses you'll want to actually jeer the stupidity running rampant on the
screen. There's not one new idea or concept here, and every cliche is beaten
to hell, and then some more. For example, any movie where criminals hijack
an airplane or an airport, do you think the main bad guy will sarcastically
use flight attendant phrases, such as: "Enjoy your flight" or "Welcome
aboard Con-Air"? What makes the whole thing infinitely more frustrating is
that while this four year old was writing the script, apparently his folks
would wander into the room and scribble a decent line of dialogue or a brief
moment into the script. Then they'd wander off again to let the little one
finish his little story.
The characters are one of the most disappointing things about the film. For
no reason whatsoever, the writer gave Nicolas Cage's character an accent,
and Cage decides to do a very slight variation of his "Raising Arizona"
character's accent. This distracted me for the whole film, as all I could do
was remember how good "Raising Arizona" is, and how retardedly stupid it is
for this character to have a pointless, sometimes unintelligible accent. The
last part of the film winds up in Las Vegas, and imagine that! Nicolas Cage
is in Las Vegas! Can he do a movie not in Vegas?
John Cusack, who for some reason made this film yet completely trashes this
type of film in interviews, is completely wrong in the part of a US Marshall
(!). But, his character is worthless, and really has no bearing on anything.
He's given a nemesis, a DEA agent (Colm Meaney), who's only purpose is to
argue with Cusack. These two men argue about how things should be handled,
who's tougher, blah blah blah, which only made me wonder why the government
assigned two different agencies to this prison transfer but didn't bother to
give anyone control of the situation.
Malkovich is just doing a slightly more maniacial version of his bad guy
from "In The Line of Fire", which again distracted me because all I could do
is remember how good "In The Line of Fire" was. His character also isn't
extremely bright. He hides all the plans for the hijacking in his old jail
cell, which are immediately discovered (and amazing decoded by Cusack in a
matter of seconds). The problem is that these are papers, which could have
easily been ripped up and flushed. But instead he just casually hides all
this important evidence, which instantly lets the cops know what to do. A
brilliant criminal indeed. Also, I can't watch Malkovich much because he's
always giving interviews about how he doesn't really like films and would
rather be in the theater.
Buscemi's character holds the most promise, as he gets a truly great
entrance scene. Unfortunately as it turns out, his character - a mass
murderer - turns out to be nothing but comic relief. A funny serial killer.
His character's final scene, the last shot of the film, is supposed to be a
big joke. But when you see it, really think about it. Is it really funny? If
it happened near you, would you find it hilarious or be scared to death?
What a total waste of potential there.
Amazingly the most sympathetic and crucial character of the film is a
stuffed bunny rabbit. No, I'm not joking. Cage is bringing it home for his
little girl, and you'll notice that throughout the film that this bunny
rabbit is the basis for the film's turning points, as well as a basis for
unintentional hilarity. Get this... at one point to threaten Nicholas Cage,
Malkovich actually picks up the toy, holds a gun to it, and in all
seriousness says "Stay back or the bunny gets it". Please feel free to throw
the remainder of your soda at the screen when this happens. I guess the four
year old thought it was hilarious.
After a slow opening 20 minutes to set the story, "Con-Air" is non-stop
action. But it's so unoriginal and uninspired that you'll want it to stop.
Also, I don't know what the director has done in the past, but he should not
have been allowed to shoot or edit action sequences. The spastic and rapid
fire editing makes "Natural Born Killers" look like one big tracking shot,
as every time action takes place it's like looking at a cartoonist's
flipbook of completely random images. It's much too noisy, as bullets fly,
things explode, AND heavy score music blasts the audience all at once. If
there was any dialogue in there, I hope I missed it. I guess one other big
problem is that there's a false sense of urgency about capturing these guys.
They don't have some sort of master plan to cause great harm to people,
they're just trying to get to the Carribbean or wherever there's a
non-extradition treaty. Nothing in the script was well thought out.
"Con-Air" is a total disappointment. Hopefully others can recognize its
insulting stupidity and it will fade quickly from the summer movie scene. [R]
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When the Bruckheimer/Simpson team brought Crimson Tide to the screen
back in 1995, I was incredibly surprised. I had previously associated
the duo with such popcorn successes as Top Gun and Days of Thunder.
Never did I expect a clever and taught thriller that challenged the
audience with theoretical dilemmas as well as entertained with gripping
drama. When The Rock emerged in 1996, again, I was impressed by the
charismatic chemistry between Connery and Cage, in addtion to the
awesome performance of the misled anti-villain like Ed Harris' Gen.
After the death of Simpson, Bruckheimer ventures alone (you can tell by
the slightly modified lightning intro that marks each of their films)
with his entry into the summer season, CON AIR, with Nicolas Cage, John
Malkovich, and John Cusack. Cage is a US Army Ranger wrongfully
imprisoned. Unluckily, on day of his parole he finds himself on a
hijacked plane filled with the Justice Department's most wanted.
Simply put, to the extent that a film's purpose is to entertain, Con Air
accomplishes just that -- and no more. Many of the current
Bruckheimer/Simpson patents are present, including the news footage of
military action to start, the very Hans Zimmer-ish score by Mark
Mancina, and a script that again seems edited by Tarantino. Since the
script does not offer much range within the protagonists, Cage comes off
competent, as does Cusack. Cage's character, Sgt. Cameron Poe, is
almost caricature -- terse, deadly, but at heart a family man. Cusack's
Deputy Marshal Larkin, however, is basically Cusack with gun.
Malkovich, however, is underused. While certainly capable of so much
more (refer to In the Line of Fire, Dangerous Liasons, and the Killing
Fields), Malkovich is just having fun in his maniacal portrayal of Cyrus
"the Virus." To his credit, the image of Malkovich holding Cage's bunny
hostage will should go down in the annals of film history as one of the
funniest hostage moments ever. Unfortunately, much of these clever
moments are eclipsed by pyrotechnics.
Buscemi steals the show in his limited moments. It is difficult to
describe accurately his role, a sort of Shakespearean narrative clown
crossed with Hannibal Lecter. His presense in the film is nonetheless
ambitious as the screenwriters remind us that all is in good fun.
The action is solid. Bruckheimer and company are geniuses when
combining testosterone soundtracks, TNT, and intense close ups. In a
way, expectation may be Con Air's greatest enemy. The audience is
already expecting high explosions, chases, and mounting body counts.
Although Con Air delivers adequately all these, in the end one might
leave somewhat anti-climatic. After all, how thrilling is it to put on
a familiar pair of old shoes?
CAPSULE: A roaring behemoth of an action movie that manages to be great fun
and totally ridiculous at the same time. All that's missing is Jackie Chan.
Somehow this movie works. CON AIR is totally ridiculous and over-the-top;
there's not a moment in it that could be believed. And yet there it is, and
it's great fun. Hong Kong ultraviolence comes to Hollywood, sort of.
Nicholas Cage stars as Cameron Poe, a Gulf War veteran. After coming home
from the front to his sweetheart, he gets into a vicious fight with a bunch
of rednecks for threatening his wife and kills one of them. For this he's
sent to jail for seven years, and while nobody in the audience believed that
such a thing would ever go to trial (self-defense? hello?), we bought it and
went on, because the movie proceeded to set up Poe as an interesting fellow.
He spends his time in jail educating himself, keeping himself together, and
forming a rapport with other inmates. And now that he's being let out on
parole, he's preparing to see his daughter in the flesh for the first time.
Something has to go wrong, of course, and it does. Bigtime. The plane that
Poe's being put on is also being used to transport a gang of brutally
hard-core lifers and death-row criminals to a newly-built max-security
prison. One of them, the charmingly named "Cyrus the Virus" (played by John
Malkovitch with the sleazy charm of a mass murderer turned talk show host),
has hatched a plan that involves clockwork timing, the help of several other
inmates, and hostage-taking. On top of *that*, one of the other prisoners is
a plant -- a DEA agent with a hideout gun who's been put on board to get
information from one of the conspirators about a Central American drug lord.
Everything goes wrong at once. I will not spoil too many of the details,
because part of the fun of the movie is watching how the well-oiled machine
of the prisoner transport goes horribly wrong. Ultimately, Poe is put into a
very sticky situation -- a whole web of them, in fact, where he has to try
to survive as well as help out a newly-made friend or three. Poe, muscular
and graceful, looks both very in and out of place amongst the neo-Nazis and
mass murderers that make up the rest of the crew, and he does everything he
can to distance himself from them. The criminals themselves are not too
smart, but the Virus is clever and resourceful, and makes up for it. They
supply the deadly, anarchic energy that the crazy plan he's dreamed up needs
to succeed, and there's a weird, perverse pleasure in seeing them get away
with so much of what they do.
Also in the bubbling pot of the plot are John Cusack, as the supervisor of
the flight, who startles everyone around him by whipping out one piece of
remarkable improvisation after another. He locks horns hard with the DEA man
(a very enjoyable Colm Meaney), and takes a peculiarly delicious form of
revenge on the man -- and his sports car.
The movie doesn't stop once it gets into high gear. I've hardly seen another
movie that creates the level of non-stop tension and forward motion that
this one does. It also sustains it against all odds -- logical,
intellectual, whatever. The movie just doesn't look back, and when the
audience walked out, they were drained and exhilarated. Not one single
believable thing had happened, but the movie creates such a strong sense of
personalities and character, that we ignore the silliness of it all and have
a great time watching things blow up. And that happens *in extremis*. There
is one stunt that, even if it was faked, had most of the audience on the
floor -- involving the plane, its mooring line, gunfire, a shed, a control
tower and a car. You'll see what I mean.
All the actors do a fine job: Malkovitch is disturbing and twisted; Cage is
solemn and also with a twinkle of smarts in his eye; Cusack is
irrepressible; Meaney is hilarious. Steve Buscemi also pokes his head in, as
a disturbed serial killer, although his role feels as though it should
either have been cut out completely or expanded on further. I love him as an
actor, but he needed to have his material brought to fruition for his role
to really work here.
CON AIR will no doubt live on in the hearts of action/stunt/explosion fans
everywhere, and is destined to be a fratboy action favorite alongside HARD
BOILED, LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD. I suspect a sequel won't be long in
coming; any bets?
Three out of four restraint suits.
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Okay, here's the deal. 'Member back in kidhood when you saw an ad
during Saturday cartoons for some fab-o new toy? This
fill-in-the-blank, whatever it was, had the right-on dig-o-rama. It
was flashy, shiny, cool. It did backflips, shot sparks, spun like a
top, made rattatat noises, had kung fu grip. The fresh-scrubbed kids
in the commercial -- all freckly-faced and chipper -- looked like they
were having the time of their lives playing with it. The announcer
was all frothy and screamin', "Be sure to get the
Well, you'd go absolutely batcrap to get that dang
fill-in-the-blank. You'd whine and carry on, pitch a
peemortal fit or three. You'd drop oh-so-subtle hints to your parents,
like, "Momma, I just GOTTA have a fill-in-the-blank!" You'd drag her
through the store like a wrecker pullin' a Taurus, 'til you could plop
her in front of the shelf, so she could see exactly what the box
looked like and its exact location on the shelf. And, she'd try to put
you off with, A) "Save your allowance..." B) "Maybe for your
birthday," or , C) "We'll see...." (I always detested, "We'll see....)
Then finally, some interminable eon later, you got it! The
fill-in-the-blank! After all the hullabaloo, the fill-in-the-blank
was finally in your hands! And you played with it. And, without fail,
the fill-in-the-blank turned out to be a big gyp. It broke, it didn't
fly, it didn't make the same sounds it made on TV. You didn't have
freckles and you weren't all that chipper. And, now, you were stuck
My dear patients, that's exactly how I felt last night when
I left the theater after seeing Con Air, Paramount's float in the
summer blockbuster parade. I'd seen trailer after trailer for the
thing, not realizing I was being duped with the same marketing finesse
that made the fill-in-the-blank so appealing years ago. And, by
criminy, all I was left with was a box of 180 dB explosions and an
empty shell of a movie. No spinnin' tops, no shootin' sparks, no kung
fu grip. Batteries not included.
Nicolas Cage stars as Cameron Poe, a prison parolee being
transported with a batch of the most heinous criminals on Planet
Reebok. The nare-do-wells (surprise!) hijack the plane to escape. And
the only way Poe can prove he's not a heinous criminal himself is to
stop this merry band of goons. Simple, huh?
We get the standard creepy turn from John Malkovich, this
time as criminal mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. If you saw In
The Line Of Fire, you've caught Cyrus the Virus. His name was
different in that film, but it's the same person.
Super-cool Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission:Impossible) is
second-in-command Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones. And, oh, yes, Steve
"Where's the Orthodontist" Buscemi plays Garland "The Marietta
Mangler" Greene, a Lecter-wannabe (whose character never kills anyone
in this movie, by the way....). I love how movie prisoners always have
a nickname that ends up in quotations; even when it's spoken, you
just want to do that arms-up-two-fingers-of-each-
Add to this mishmash one John Cusack, as U.S. Marshall Vince
Larkin, and you've got a very promising action thriller, bigger and
better than The Fugitive or The Rock. Right?
Wrong. In fact, this drivel should not even be within
spittin' distance of the moviehouse. The Nickster, doing some funky
Elvis-Rosco P. Coltrain-Dukes-of-Hazzard voice, is buffed up and oily,
he sports a nice long hair weave, and has the most consistent T-shirt
sweat-stains since Bruce Willis in Die Hard. But, despite his
Nickness, which is always so fun to watch, he does not make this movie
great. In fact, he's merely the man that keeps this cinematic upchuck
from getting my dreaded DEAD ON ARRIVAL rating.
You pull Cage out of the pot, and you've got a relentless
storm of car wrecks, plane wrecks, and other gas-induced explosions,
peppered with silly murders and absolutely the lamest dialogue this
side of Godzilla 1985. This is producer Jerry Bruckheimer's first film
without his late partner and friend of the working girl Don Simpson,
and it really makes one wonder exactly who the brains of that twosome
really was. Bruck-man can go over the top with the best of them (and
here, WAY over the top), but it's simply mindless violence for the
sake of the legendary "Summer Slam Action Flick." Unlike his last year
winner, The Rock, there's no attempt to balance the gunpowder with a
little wit, thought, and common sense story structure.
And, while we're raking over Bruck-man, let's point out
something else here. Con Air marks his pattern of pulling directors
from the ranks of TV commercials. (The Rock's Michael Bay, Top Gun's
Tony Scott, Flashdance's Adrian Lyne all got their start puking out
small-screen harpies for Madison Avenue.) I have no doubt that this
man Simon West could direct a feature movie, but, somehow, I get the
feeling that West was only doing what he was told to do instead of
putting his own stamp on the movie. I find it hard to believe that a
first-time director chose to not tell any sort of story. No, gentle
readers, this thing smells of Bruck-man telling West, "I said
EXPLOSION, not EXPOSITION."
Sorry, West and Bruck. You let your testosterone get the
better of you this time. You'll probably make a small mint from the
Bang Junkies who get off seeing Las Vegas blow up, but, as for making
a good movie, you missed the trick completely. C'mon guys, don't
forget: some assembly required.
Get "reel" soon,
Dr. Daniel's Movie Emergency
RATING (0 TO ****): **
Welcome to the silly season. It's summer, and every weekend
brings a new hundred million dollar action movie. (Some price tags
being slightly less.) Serious movies avoid the heat of summer when
people's brains are fried. This diminution of mental capacity causes
movie goers to flock to blockbusters promising even louder explosions
than the film the week before.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose middle name must be "excess,"
last year gave us THE ROCK. Remember the car chase in it that felt
like it was on a Moebius strip and would never end? Well, that was
subtle filmmaking compared to the fireworks style extravaganza that
ends his latest picture CON AIR. Of course, that part is set in the
town that loves people who overindulge -- Las Vegas. The worst part of
the conclusion is that when you breathe a slight of relief that this
repetitive and overly long film is finally over, it isn't.
But I am getting ahead of myself. As one who has sat through CON
AIR, it is easy to dwell on the ending credits since that means you can
leave. Still, along the way, Scott Rosenberg's script does have many
good one-liners to amuse us, and CON AIR works best as a comedy.
You've seen all of the stunts and special effects before so there is
little left to focus on other than the acting, which stays at the comic
book level, and the dialog.
I kept thinking that if their budget were cut in half, they would
have made a better picture. If the special effects department were put
on a much stricter budget, the show might have had to develop the
characters beyond caricature.
A frequent complaint about movies is that the villain is not
strong enough, but here the movie is populated by a plethora of bad
guys. "The worst of the worst" prisoners are being transported on the
a U. S. Marshal's airplane, which the inmates nickname Con Air (Convict
Airlines), to a new maximum security prison. The U. S. Marshal in
charge is Vince Larkin (John Cusack from GROSS POINTE BLANK), who
quotes Dostoevski and talks like a walking thesaurus.
The hero of the picture is Cameron Poe played by Nicolas Cage, the
great character actor from LEAVING LAS VEGAS who seems to be slumming
by taking this part. Eight years ago, ex-Army Ranger Cameron killed a
man trying to harm his pregnant wife Tricia, played with fashion model
beauty by Monica Potter. Cameron is about to be paroled and is
hitching his way back on Con Air for his release.
This flight is transporting every manner of criminal including a
Hannibal Lecter clone named Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene,
played by Steve Buscemi in a horrible bit of miscasting. One con tells
us that "the way he killed the people, he made the Manson Family look
like the Partridge Family." Get the point. These guys are bad, bad,
bad. Or as Cameron puts it, "Somehow they managed to get every creep
and freak in the universe on this one plane."
The leader of the convicts, Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, is played
by John Malkovich in his perennial slime ball, intellectual role.
"Cyrus is a poster child for the criminally insane," according to
As the plane is being loaded, Larkin assures his coworker that
there is no reason to worry about the operation. "This is a well oiled
machine," he tells her. "All we have to worry about is stale peanuts
and a little bit of turbulence." For the three people in the world who
haven't seen the trailers and know nothing of the movie, this line is a
tip off that all hell is about to break loose.
If you want to have fun in the picture, bring a pad and keep a
count of the story's illogical aspects. My favorite involves the
number of guns the guards take on board the plane to protect
themselves. Want to venture a guess? It's one little pistol that the
pilot keeps in a locked box in the cockpit. When the inevitable break
occurs in mid-air, the lack of guns becomes a severe handicap for the
guards. But boy-oh-boy do lots of people die anyway.
In order to appeal to women, the movie was supposedly softened up
by Cage's adding little family touches like his stuffed bunny. (At a
key point, Cyrus actually threatens Cameron with "Make a move and the
bunny gets it!") Disney is marketing the film's almost non-existent
love story angle in an attempt to broaden the demographics of the
audience. Even religion enters the picture when Cameron tells his
dying buddy, "I'm going to show you that God does exist."
Like a roulette player that plays it safe by betting on all the
numbers, this movie does not miss anything. Did I mention that there
is a transvestite named "Sally Can't Dance" (Renoly), a black militant
named Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), and a tattooed rapist
named John "Johnny 23" Baca (Danny Trejo)? Johnny has 23 counts of
rape but brags the real number is 600.
Although I had fun listening to the dialog, the show is pure
balderdash and about as imaginative as Saturday morning cartoons. A
rock 'em, sock 'em, meaningless time at the movies.
CON AIR runs 1:55. It is rated R for strong violence and
language. The violence was cartoonish enough so that the film is
probably acceptable for most teenagers. I cannot recommend the show
although I did laugh often enough to give it **.
**** = A must see film.
*** = Excellent show. Look for it.
** = Average movie. Kind of enjoyable.
* = Poor show. Don't waste your money.
0 = Totally and painfully unbearable picture.
REVIEW WRITTEN ON: June 6, 1997
Opinions expressed are mine and not meant to reflect my employer's.
*** (out of ****)
When talking about summer films, it's a cliche to suggest that the
audience leave their brains at home because the movie is all action and
fun but low on thought. There's a reason why some phrases become
overworked. They're true.
Nicolas Cage plays a convict headed home to his family in "Rambo III: In
The Clouds"...no, that's "Die Hard Behind Bars"...err, whatever they're
calling this year's buff lone wolf defending the helpless against all
odds film. Cage has much depth as an actor than Stallone has ever shown,
but here he does a credible Sly.
Cameron Poe (Cage) is an Army Ranger in the wrong place at the wrong
time who accidentally kills one of a group of men intent on raping his
pregnant wife. After hiring what must be the worst attorney in the
western hemisphere, our hero ends up setting out the next several years
in a federal prison pining away for his wife and Casey, the daughter
he's never seen.
When it's finally his day to go home which just happens to be Casey's
birthday, for some reason he's put aboard the "Jailbird", a plane loaded
with the most dangerous scum of the earth. (Of course the "some reason"
is that without that plot element, we would have no film.) Loaded with
such luminaries as Cyrus The Virus (John Malkovich) and Diamond Dog
(Ving Rhames), the craft is a traveling freak show of depravity.
Unknown to Poe, the rest of the cons have hatched a plot to hijack their
air taxi. During a scheduled stop to pick up new travelers, he has the
opportunity to safely leave but doesn't since his buddy is about to slip
into a diabetic coma because he has no syringe for his insulin. "You
don't leave a fallen man behind."
The latest guest of honor is the ultimate mass murderer Garland Greene
(Steve Buscemi) who once wore the head of a little girl as a hat on a
drive through three states. Trussed up like Hannibal Lector, soft-spoken
Greene is easily the creepiest of the bunch.
Then everything blows up and crashes and gets shot and bursts into
fireballs just like you knew it would.
On the ground US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) is trying to
recapture the plane while engaging in absurd jurisdiction disputes with
a gung-ho DEA agent who wants to solve the problem with missiles.
There are a few weak moments in the energy. Poe's extended search for a
set of works for his ailing friend gets in the way of the heat. He
spends his time looking through boxes and cabinets while a firefight
rages outside and the medical authenticity for the insulin need is iffy.
Other than that, the explosions are non-stop and it's a thrill-a-minute
excursion. The effects are spectacular especially during the crash
Cyrus is the most interesting of the characters as Malkovich once again
is the evil mastermind or as he says "the poster child for the
criminally insane". Although Cyrus gets more screen time, the most
unsettling scene goes to the smiling Greene and a young girl having a
nice little tea party in a decrepit abandoned swimming pool. It's also
the most puzzling piece of the movie as the reason for the resolution of
that moment is left to the imagination of the viewer.
All the actors are in fine form although in the best of all possible
worlds, they would have had more to work with. Everyone's playing the
same characters that they have before and Cage even looks a tad bored
Oh well. It's a good looking movie with a lot of "wow"s. Just the thing
to luxuriate in on these hot dry summer days. That is, if we ever make
it to that season.
[This appeared in the 6/12/97 "Bloomington Voice", Bloomington, Indiana.
Michael Redman can be reached at mre...@bvoice.com ]
Con Air is the first production of Jerry Bruckheimer's without the late Don
Simpson. Con Air also brings Nicolas Cage back to work with Bruckheimer again.
Last summer's The Rock was their last film working together. So how does Con
Air hold up to The Rock?
Nicolas Cage plays Cameron Poe, a man whose life story seems to be about being
in the wrong place at the wrong time. On his way home from the Army, Poe meets
with his newly pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter) in a bar. They kiss and
they dance, but their dance is cut short by a group of rowdy men in the bar.
Poe and his wife leave the bar, running to their car in the rain, as they
arrive at their car they meet those rowdy men again. In a fight with the men,
trying to protect his wife, Poe kills one of the men. Poe is sent to jail for
murder. After serving eight years of his sentence, he is now ready to go on
parole. He is ready to meet his daughter for the first time.
Poe catches a ride home on an airplane full of convicted murders and rapists.
He rides along with his cellmate who is being transferred and is badly in need
of a needle to take his insulin. John Cusack, who is quickly becoming one of
my most favourite actors, is US Marshal Vince Larkin, who is on ground
overseeing the transfer of all these prisoners. As the plane takes off, Cyrus
"The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) and Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving
Rhames), two really bad men, escape their cells and take over the flight,
dubbing the flight Con Air. From this point on, we are supposed to suspend our
disbelief and go along for the ride. For some movies it is easy to do this,
especially since it is the summer movie season, but in Con Air it is difficult
Con Air tries to go over the top, like last summer's The Rock, but rookie
director Simon West is unable to create the same excitement in the action
sequences as Michael Bay did in The Rock. He is unable to reach the same
level. And the end result is a movie that does not work for this exact reason.
West is unable to create the action sequences that would have helped the
audience to over come the implausibility of the film.
The ensemble cast gives a great performance except for a few. Colm Meaney
gives more of an annoying performance as an angry DEA agent. Renoly, as Sally
Can't Dance, really has no place in the film more than comic relief. And to
that extent, it is poorly executed. Steve Buscemi, as Carland "The Marietta
Mangler" Greene, who is describe as worse than the whole Manson family
together, is in the film, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.
On the bright side the lead performers give solid performances. Nicolas Cage
does well as Cameron Poe, though it takes a little time to adjust to his
strange adopted accent in this film. "If you see muh waif, tell er ah love
er," he tells US Marshal Vince Larkin. John Malkovich is genuinely scary as
Cyrus the Virus. He portrays Cyrus as a dangerous and insane, yet very
intelligent man. Ving Rhames, although not as strong a performance as in
Mission: Impossible and Pulp Fiction still pulls off a great performance.
John Cusack is the guy that is right, but is always doubted, and as US Marshal
Vince Larkin, he shows his frustration.
Con Air tries really hard to be a loud summer action movie filled with
explosions and action, and to an extent it is successful. But it doesn't try
hard enough and it has many shortcomings, including the hard to swallow story
and some weak supporting performances. If you really have two hours to burn,
and those two hours happen to fall into a matinee show time, then catch Con
Air. If not, save your money, Con Air crashes and burns before it even takes
off. Maybe next time Jerry Bruckheimer.
steve kong "i want something else" (boi...@earthlink.net)
personal site http://home.earthlink.net/~boiled/
hardboiled movie page http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Lot/2259/
mookie's place web http://mookie.relay.net/
Rating: ** (Maltin scale)
Last year around this time, moviegoers were treated to a loud, explosive,
big budget summer blockbuster called "The Rock." Produced by Jerry
Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the film featured some big-name stars, a
no-name director, and a plot concerning a bunch of terrorists making life
difficult for our hero, Nicolas Cage. This summer, following the death of
partner Simpson, Bruckheimer is flying solo, bringing us a loud, explosive,
big budget action flick that features some big-name stars, a no-name
director, and a plot concerning a bunch of convicts making life difficult
for our hero, Nicolas Cage.
Sounds like a can't-lose formula, doesn't it?
Whereas "The Rock" was an intelligent, exciting, noisy piece of
entertainment, "Con Air" is just plain noisy.
What "Con Air" is missing, first and foremost, is Sean Connery, whose
dignified presence grounded "The Rock." "Con Air" has an impressive
line-up of stars, but not one of them can fill Connery's shoes.
John Cusack, as U.S. marshal Vince Larkin, tries his best, but his
character--an "annoying, wise-ass bookworm creep"--is too fresh faced and
frantic to bring this picture home. Colm Meaney plays a real meaney of a
D.E.A. agent, Duncan Malloy, whose sports car license plate reads "AZZ
KIKR." Both want to bring the plane down, Larkin safely, Malloy with
extreme force, so there's plenty for them to bicker about on the ground.
Then there's the fleshed-out roster of killers, rapists, and general
threats to society onboard the massive C-123 transport plane that's
transferring them all to a maximum security prison:
John Malkovich, as Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, the leader of the piece, who
likes to brag that he's killed more men than cancer. It takes more than a
shaved head and a few snappy one-liners to play the embodiment of evil.
Malkovich plays it for laughs, but his obvious asides ("Welcome to Con Air"
and "Thank you for flying Con Air," for example) grow tiresome quickly.
And after all, Connery's often-imitated "Welcome to the Rock, gentlemen"
sounded so much better with a Scottish brogue.
Ving Rhames ("Striptease," "Rosewood"), as the militant Diamond Dog,
doesn't have much of a role.
The hatchet-faced Danny Trejo is Johnny 23, so named because of the number
of women he's raped. He's featured in a particularly vile scene, in which
he threatens to make Rachel Ticotin's prison guard number 24, all in the
name of cinema.
And last but not least, Steve Buscemi plays the Hannibal Lecter-inspired
sociopath Garland Greene, replete with leather face mask and ironic
observations. Buscemi actually gets the most frequent flyer mileage out of
his character simply by playing it straight (if you're familiar with
Buscemi's work, you'll know that's not easy). As the cargo plane crash
lands on the Vegas strip, Buscemi's character is singing "He's Got the
Whole World in His Hands," proving beyond a doubt his psychotic tendencies.
Yes. For Buscemi, that's pretty straight.
As someone in the film astutely observes, this motley crew of undesirables
makes the Manson family look like the Partridge family.
Then there's Cage, as parolee Cameron Poe. Poe's heading home to meet his
wife and daughter after serving an eight-year sentence for manslaughter,
the result of some necessary roughness outside a bar and a feeble defense
lawyer. Poe gets to stow his carry-on luggage with Grissom's gang, and you
just know he'll have more to worry about than "stale peanuts and a little
turbulence." (Speaking of "Turbulence," the smug "Con Air" arrives even
later at the gate than that absurd '96 flightfest.)
Cage has an interesting filmography, including a recent Oscar-winning
performance in "Leaving Las Vegas." He's had his greatest moments playing
oddball characters such as H.I. McDonough in "Raising Arizona"; the bitter,
passionate baker in "Moonstruck"; and a cockroach-eating bloodsucker in
"Vampire's Kiss." Although his flagrant shirtlessness in "Con Air" proves
that he's buff-enuf to play an action hero, it seems a pity to waste his
unique talents on this kind of pap.
In "Con Air," a lot of things blow up, and blow up some more. After about
two hours, the explosions, shootings, explosions, wise-cracks, explosions,
and intrusive sentimental interludes get very boring. While assuredly
market wise, "Con Air" is significantly less than Rock-solid.
David N. Butterworth
CON AIR ** Directed by Simon West. Written by Scott Rosenberg. Produced by
Jerry Bruckheimer Pictures / Buena Vista Pictures.Photography, David
Tattersall. Editing, Chris Lebenzon, Steve Mirkovich. Music, Mark Mancina,
Trevor Rabin. Special effects, Computer Film Company / Dream Quest. Cast:
Nicolas Cage (Cameron Poe), John Cusack (US Marshal Vince Larkin), John
Malkovich ( Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom), Steve Buscemi ( Garland "The
Marietta Mangler" Greene),Nick Chinlund (Billy "Billy Bedlam" Bedform),
Rachel Ticotin ( Guard Sarah Bishop), Colm Meaney ( Agent Duncan Malloy),
M.C. Gainey (Jimmy Earl "Swamp Thing" West), Ving Rhames (Nathan "Diamond
Dog" Jones), Brendan Kelly ( Conrad), Mykelti Williamson (Baby O), Danny
Trejo (John "Johnny 23" Baca), Renoly (Sally Can't Dance), et al. A Buena
Vista release. 115 min. Rated R (extreme violence and language).
As I staggered from the excesses of "Con Air" into the daylight, I thought
that the category this and many other pictures belong to is "Traction
Movies," short for Trash and Action. What sets "Con Air" in a niche within
Traction films, seems to be that no other film I remember has had such a
colossal number of camera shots.
This is done by keeping them brief and keeping them coming at you at an
average rate of about one shot per second. Since, minus final credits, this
movie runs about 112 minutes, times 60 this makes it a total of 6720
seconds or 6720 images. If I am wrong, it still feels that way.
Thanks to a cast of able actors ( Cage, Cusack, Malkovich, Buscemi,
others) the film survives. The performers, given a lot to do physically and
very little thespianly are caricatural, one-dimensional cliches, yet each
does the most with what he has. The good guys (plus Guard Rachel Ticotin)
though not always pleasant, are in law enforcement. The
much-worse-than-bad, arch-criminal guys are convicts.
The real hero, however, is Cameron Poe whom Nicholas Cage plays with a
drawl and with what might just be a certain amount of boredom. As a just
discharged ace Army Ranger, he meets his pretty (blonde, of course)
waitress wife who is pregnant. Defending her against some drunken scum, he
accidentally kills one of them.
This involuntary manslaughter sends Cage to the pen for eight years in an
unlikely miscarriage of justice. The man is a model prisoner. He keeps fit,
betters himself, reads constantly, does origami, corresponds sweetly with
wife and daughter -- and in case you missed that fleeting shot, also has a
lithograph of Jesus on his wall.
Paroled, Cage is improbably put on a special plane, a flying high-security
jail, along with a bunch of the worst serial killers, serial rapists and
serial you-name-it imaginable. Not merely The Dirty Dozen but the
Amazingly Filthy And Then Some Dozen. In ways that stun one's imagination,
the cons, though thoroughly searched, carry the means to take over the
plane. They do just that, triggering the Law's search for and duels with,
the beastly hijackers.
Their leader is Cyrus the Virus (Malkovich) whose viciousness is matched by
his amazingly high I.Q. and who initially wears an absurd Hannibal Lecter
mask. The smartest lawman is John Cusack, whose efforts are complicated by
Agent Colm Meaney, here a sort of meanie, but familiar as a wonderfully
warm Irish dad in "The Snapper," and warm too in the lesser "The Van."
Cage is, of course, The Man Who Will Save the Situation. A Great Guy
through and through, at times almost saintly, he must vanquish the
criminals if he wants to see his family, also to save Guard Ticotin from
rape and to get insulin for his best buddy who is also in the plane.
The machine-gun-fast succession of events or fractions of events becomes
from the start such overkill (in all senses) that you can't really keep up
with details. The facts are impossible to describe, remember, or to make
any sense of. It's an orgy of plot-holes, contradictions and
impossibilities. The audience sits there with eyes and brains numbed. By
the time the may try to formulate an objection or ask a neighbors "what
happened?" a new situation is already on the screen, then another, then
another. (Among the myriad question marks is why Buscemi is given such
slick aphorisms and why he does not assassinate a little girl).
The movie is as understanding-proof as it is critic-proof, meaning that it
will make money even if all the reviews are bad. And bad they should be,
except that "Con Air," no matter how insane or guilty of esthetic, moral
and cinematic crimes, is not boring. It keep going and it keeps you going.
"Con Air" climaxes with a preposterous destruction of much of Las Vegas as
the airplane, piloted by convict "Swamp Thing" plows through the city, then
a fire engine, driven by the same man keeps up the mayhem. The immense
absurdity is campily comical. It makes you wonder if Swamp Thing should not
get a medal.
Directed by Simon West
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Cast Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames,
Steve Buscemi, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin, Colm
MPAA Rating "R" (presumably for violence and profanity)
Running Time 115 minutes
Reviewed at General Cinemas at Pleasant Valley, Raleigh, NC
CON AIR, the latest testosterone poisoner from late Don Simpson
producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer, starring Nicholas Cage as the lone
good-guy bad guy aboard a hijacked prison plane, may not be the worst
movie of the year-- it's too entertaining to be called that-- but it is
an exhausting failure, nonetheless. Bad Choices abound, from editing to
story structure to Cage's accent, which renders the hair-extended hero
sounding like a cross between the King and Hi, his character from RAIS-
ING ARIZONA. (Cage's comment on a car, hanging from the ass-end of a
plane: "Awhn any other day, this maht seem strange." Thankyouverymuch.)
Call it wrongway filmmaking at its finest, CON AIR is as jaw-dropping
awful as last summer's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. And, I believe, even more
fun. For every preposterous plot point, for every momentum-sapping
sidetrack, for every hundredth slow-mo shot of something exploding,
there's a huge laugh lurking right around the corner, be it from one of
a dozen scene-stealing villains, to one of a dozen vehicular collisions,
to one of a (double) dozen fall-out-of-your-seat-funny one-liners. And
I haven't even mentioned the theme from A SUMMER PLACE. Bad movies
should be so much fun.
Mike Legeros - Movie Hell
Director: Simon West
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Ving Rhames, Steve
Buscemi, Dave Chappelle, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Danny Trejo,
We all know the mother of all mindless action pics is NOT "Speed," but
the great "Die Hard." Not the sequels, the first one. It was fun,
action-packed and had an outrageous plot, filled with an invincible,
wise-cracking hero was shot several times, beaten up by Germans, and
still lived to get in the limo with his ex-estranged wife. Not that it
was totally mindless. It had some logic to it. But most of all it was
Most films in this little sub-genre (including "Speed," "Passenger 57,"
and "Under Siege" - "Executive Decision" doesn't belong her, it was too
believable and thoughtful and had little physical action) pretty much
blow (I'm sure "Speed 2" is gonna suck). But "Con Air" gets that right
pitch of fun-filled action with huge lapses in logic and a great, witty
screenplay from Scott Rosenberg (of indie fame - "Beautiful Girls" and
"Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead). He makes it so fun to listen
to them shoot out one-liners that when there are long lapses in action,
it's just a thrill to watch them shoot them out - not that the
dialogue's anywhere near that of Tarantino, they're in totally different
This would be crap if it weren't for the direction of Simon West, a
newcomer, who handles the film with the exact approach it needs. The
film KNOWS it's stupid and moronic, and it plays that up in a gleeful
way. He creates wonderfully silly action sequences that had me
laughing. One scene in particular is when the star, Nic Cage, fights a
convict to the death in the hull of the plane when he's found out who he
is. He first tells the con to put down the bunny he bought for his
daughter who he is going to see later on, but the con doesn't put it
down. They fight, Nic kills him and then says "Why didn't he put down
the bunny?" or something like that. Another shot that is hysterical is
after the cool plane crash at the end, the cops are in there searching
for survivors and find this one guy who was handcuffed to a bar. The
shot shows the guy dead, leaning against the wall with his arm still
hanging from the handcuffs. They pull the corpse away and the arm still
stands there unmoved. Clever shots like this make "Con Air" worth the
The plot is hilariously ridiculous: a plane transpoting cons is taken
over by the cons, led by the gleefully insane Cyrus the Virus (John
Malkovich, in his best kind of roles, as wacky villains). But on the
plane is Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) who served 8 years in a
pennitentiary for killing man in self defense while protecting his
pregnant wife. He has never seen his little girl since he didn't want
her to see him around all these mean convicts and he is looking forward
to getting home. So he wants to use his military training to try to
stop the cons from escaping to Mexico and killing all the innocent
Among the cons, other than Cyrus, are: Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), who is
a rascist black militant who wrote a popular book and could get on
Geraldo if he wanted to; Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo), a rapist with a flower
tatoo for every woman he's raped ("I'd be Johnny 600 if they knew the
whole truth!") and has his eye set on the female guard (Rachel Ticotin);
and Garland Greene, "The Marietta Mangler" (indie uber-god Steve
Buscemi), who is a Hannibal Lector-esque man who theorizes that he's not
crazy but those of us who work for 55 years, go into retirement and wind
up in a nursing home are the true crazy ones. Also on board is
Cameron's cell-mate (Mykelti Williamson, completing the whole "Forrest
Gump" parody since Cameron's from Alabama), who needs his shot of
insulin or he'll die...but all the needles are broken.
Above all this is Nicolas Cage who, when I first heard about it, seemed
dreadfully miscast. He's an Oscar winner who turned to big-budget
action pics after his "Leaving Las Vegas" role, which he did perfectly.
But I'm glad he's picked good action pics so far. So great as the
dorky guy in "The Rock," he at first seems awkward as a muscle-bound
action hero who beats up deadly convicts and runs from fireballs. But
he's so convincing that this soon disappears. He handles Cameron's
character with style and makes him a soft-spoken man with a lot going on
inside. But his hick accent kinda drifts into the hick parody of his
H.I. character in the Coen Brothers' awesome "Raising Arizona."
Also great is John Cusack, who usually doesn't do this kind of fare, but
he signed up because of the cast and the cool script. He's not wasted
but he has an expendable character. He makes the most of it, playing
what was sort of like Nicolas Cage's role in "The Rock." He's no action
actor, but he does do a great run scene you'll dig. And brit actor Colm
Meaney is one hell of a great jerk, with his real name serving as a nice
little joke. (hah hah - you don't have to laugh, it was a bad joke, I
And John Malkovich is gerat as the main villain. He commands the film
nicely and steals every scene he's in.
The thing to admire from "Con Air" is it doesn't even attempt to oust
"Die Hard" from its throne, but puts some nice twists on an old sub
genre. I reccomend this to anyone who likes good dumb action pics.
It's certainly one hell of a ride, albeit a stupid one.
MY RATING (out of 5): ***