Con Air (1997)

2 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Con Air” is an energetic, thrilling action flick that delivers what audiences (and secretly, most critics) want from a film like this—absurd action, impressive pyrotechnics, over-the-top villains, a reckless good guy, and dumb, dumb, dumb authority figures. They always have to be dumb in these movies, don’t they? They never listen to the sensible one who knows what’s going on, and so that person tries his hand at helping to solve the situation with the hero.

But I digress. “Con Air” stars Nicolas Cage as the hero—ex-Army Ranger Cameron Poe, who has served eight years in prison on a manslaughter charge, after accidentally killing a man who threatened his pregnant wife). Eight years later, he is going home on parole to see his wife and meet his daughter for the first time. He and his prison buddy Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson) catch a flight, which also carries a load of the most deadliest criminals in America, on their way to a new Alabama prison. These sick thugs include the insane Cyrus “the Virus” (John Malkovich); black militant Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames); and 23-time rapist Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) who hopes to make the female guard Bishop (Rachel Ticotin) his 24th. (“It would’ve been Johnny 600 if they knew the whole story.”) There are many more of these creeps on board, including intellectual-type serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buschemi) who is quite the possibly the scariest man on the flight in his ways of looking at the world.

Unfortunately, they get loose, kill the guards hostage (except Bishop, who is now a hostage and the subject of Johnny 23’s taunts), and overtake the plane, with Cyrus in charge. Cameron and Baby-O pretend to be involved in the scheme, while Cameron tries whatever he can to secretly inform the authorities of what’s happening. Once word gets through, on the ground, we meet U.S. Marshal Larkin (John Cusack), a good guy who tries to resolve the condition peacefully, while a S.O.B. Federal agent (Colm Meaney) wants nothing more than to blow the plane out of the skies.

“Con Air” shares the common aspects that producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s (and his late partner Don Simpson’s) other action films had—fast editing, macho style, swift camera shots, and a booming soundtrack. While it’s not as smart or as intriguing as 1996’s “The Rock,” for example, the fun comes through and “Con Air” becomes a wild ride. Unfortunately, its weakest part is its final act, in which pure, nonsensical action completely takes over and becomes less interesting as the plane must ultimately land, and Cameron must finally square off against Cyrus.

What leads up to that is quite a kick, as action and comedy have an effective blend with each other. The criminals each have a sickly sardonic edge to themselves, and there are some grotesquely funny sight gags (including a corpse that falls from the plane and causes a traffic accident—and just when the driver had washed his car!). And how about those one-liners, especially including Cyrus’ whisper to the psychotic Garland when he first meets him (“You’re your work!”). There are also real moments of tension, when the criminals are so close to getting caught or when Cameron is almost given away one time too many. And I don’t even want to bring up the sequence in which a little girl may or may not become Garland’s latest victim.

The actors are game for their roles. John Malkovich is very menacing as the insane, predatory Cyrus the Virus. Among his backup, Ving Rhames is suitably nasty as Diamond Dog who plans to make his move against Cyrus soon enough. Steve Buschemi is absolutely mesmerizing as Garland Greene, the serial killer with reason and a soft voice that makes him even creepier—this character could have been just a cardboard cutout version of Hannibal Lector, but Buschemi makes it his own. John Cusack is game for his role of second-hero (though most of his role requires a lot of desperate shouting over the phone).

Also, Dave Chappelle, as a convict nicknamed Pinball, has some very funny lines that we’d like to expect from the great comedic actor.

I didn’t forget to mention Nicolas Cage as the hero Cameron Poe. But he is admittedly one of the least interesting parts of the movie. As much fun company he was as the hero in “The Rock,” here, he just seems rather bored and would rather be somewhere else. I understand that’s what any good-guy would feel like in a situation like this, but you know you’re in trouble when Steven Seagal is more exciting in “Under Siege” than Nicolas Cage is in “Con Air.” He’s not charismatic, nor is he very convincing with his too-thick Southern accent.

That aside, “Con Air” is a neat series of action scenes, witty dialogue, and I cannot believe I forgot to mention lots of explosions! And need we forget that while Cyrus’ cohorts walk away from explosions in an abandoned air field, Cyrus alone is man enough not to look back? Well, there you go.

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