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Con Air
directed by Simon West
Nicolas Cage Cameron Poe
John Cusack Larkin
John Malkovich Cyrus the Virus
Ving Rhames Diamond Dog
Steve Buscemi Garland Greene
Rachel Ticotin Bishop
Colm Meaney Malloy

Con Air
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Cunningham

Con Air is yet another in a long line of Jerry Bruckheimer films that are entertaining yet just a little south of the Let's push the envelope! marker. You may remember Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and The Rock. Sense a pattern? Bruckheimer clearly believes that as long as he can offer up a good story and a compelling cast to drive it, the audience cannot lose. Well, I'm not totally sold on the good story angle, but Con Air is certainly a wild ride.

Let's start with the premise, which admittedly ranks up there on the Attention Nabbing scale. Not as high as, say, SPEED, but you can still summarize it over the water cooler in less than two sentences. There's, like, a packed prison plane with a zillion security measures that gets hijacked, and this one dude -- Nicholas Cage sportin' some real hair -- finally has a chance to redeem himself for this bad prison rap. Say, seen today's Dilbert?

Then we have the dangling Plot Device or four. Did I mention the Security Measures? Let's review: No weapons allowed within the secured perimeter of the aircraft. The guards are authorized to gag and bag inmates who scream, spit, or bite. And they must agree to a No-Hostage Waiver: By proceeding on this mission, you acknowledge that, in the event of a prisoner takeover, you understand that you will not be considered a hostage and hereby authorize any means necessary to resolve the situation, even if such means result in your own injury or death. I've never seen foreshadowing in contract fine print before. Odd, but workable.

As Cameron Poe [Nicolas Cage] points out, Somehow they managed to get every creep and freak in the universe on this one plane. Poe is a decorated Army Ranger returning home from prison after serving eight years for murder. He's the best of the best, and all he wants is to get back to the loving arms of his wife and the child he's never seen. In case there's anyone in the audience who doesn't get the picture, it's also his daughter's birthday and Poe is bringing her a present, a bunny, the only cute thing on the Con Air flight. By a long shot.

The cast is incredible and really work well together. Malkovich is his usual great villain, and Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible) is especially memorable. In one scene he has to release the restraints of Hannibal-Lector-like serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi of Fargo), and looks really unsure if it's the right thing to do. John Cusack plays an above-average-intelligence US Marshall, and Colm Meaney is just nasty enough as a DEA agent that we don't mind when his vintage 'vette gets annihilated.

Con Air, and movies like it, really need to be in a special genre all their own. Sci-Fi Action Adventure and Absurd Action Adventure leap to mind. When the story needs a little something, just write it in -- an explosion here, a pivotal element there. One example is the weapons: no weapons are allowed on the flight, yet the plane's cargo hold conveniently has enough weapons and ammunition to fight off an entire metro police force when they come to take the plane. The US Marshall's office does have a program for air transportation of inmates, but can we believe they'd ever put all these bad guys on one flight? But I suppose that's the truly magical element of all great Action Adventures: they cheerfully take for granted the boundless ability of the audience to suspend disbelief.

Con Air the movie is like a puppy. Just like a puppy, it wants to be liked and it pretty much goes wherever it want to. And when all is said and done, through all the ups and downs, you can't help liking something that tries that hard.

Copyright © 1997 by Thomas Cunningham

Thomas Cunningham is an independent corporate coach working in the software industry. Bad science fiction films give him a rash.

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