Con Air (1997)

con-air IMDb

In the mid-90s, Nicholas Cage made a few decent action movies (The Rock, Face/Off, Con Air) and everyone just assumed he was an action star. This is not the case. I’ve never considered him an action star, just an actor who made some entertaining action flicks once. I’m not sure what the difference is, but there absolutely is one. Cage is no Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and I doubt anyone would ever suggest otherwise. In saying that, Con Air is an entertaining film with an original story and a kick ass villain in John Malkovich.

Con Air starts with Cameron Poe (Cage) returning from a war (Iraq, I assume) to his wife (Monica Potter) who is pregnant with their first child. When she is accosted by some drunken idiots, Cameron defends her and ends up killing one by accident. This gets him seven years in jail. When he is released, Poe hitches a ride on a plane taking the worst criminals in America to a newly created maximum security prison. The criminals, led be Cyrus ‘the virus’ Grissom (Malkovich), take over the plane and intend to fly it away to a secluded land with no extradition laws. Poe is trapped on board and with the help of Federal Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack), must stop them if he ever wants to get back to his wife and meet his daughter for the first time (he wouldn’t let her meet him from a prison cell).

Ok, first the good. This is a fun film. Cage is quite bland, but Malkovich is clearly having a lot of fun playing the insane Cyrus. He is the highlight of the film for me. There are some terrific action set pieces throughout the film. The finale, set in an airplane hangar is the highlight.

Now for the bad, this film is not plausible at all. From the very beginning to the end, I don’t think much of this movie would be allowed to happen in the real world. When Cameron’s wife is harassed by loudmouths, he is decked out in his army gear. Having travelled all over America, I can’t imagine a situation where someone wearing an armed services uniform would be treated like that by regular citizens, and even if he was, there is no way he’d get seven years for what was clearly self-defence. No matter how much training he’s had. I also didn’t buy that the criminals were all in cahoots. The whole plane seemed to know what was going on and had a role to play. I can’t believe the prison system would be dumb enough to put the worst people on the planet in the same place and give them enough time to hatch a plan of taking over a plane full of crooks. I also didn’t understand why Steve Buscemi was given such a large role. His character added nothing to the overall story. He plays a creepy Hannibal Lecter type who you assume is nutty, but when he is freed, all he does is go and have a tea party with a young girl and leave. I didn’t understand what the point of his story was, it felt like it was created purely to get Buscemi in the movie somehow. I would’ve enjoyed his story much more if he actually had a hand in stopping the other criminals, or saved Cameron in a bind at some stage. It would have been a nice message that the man they all thought was the worst of them was somewhat good still.

Despite its shortcomings, this is an entertaining flick. Cage has done better. I much prefer Face/Off and the National Treasure movies, but this is still a solid action flick. The villains make this movie better than a generic action film.

Rating: C+

What is even up with this movie? It seems like a cool spin on the traditional prison break idea, but it quickly gets bogged down in Nick Cage’s bland performance, layers of ridiculous implausibility, and plot threads that are left dangling for no apparent reason. Also, my mom owned a Conair hairdryer around the time this came out, so I’ve always found it ridiculous on many levels.

For me the most implausible bit of the film is how Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage) is treated once returning from the Gulf War. Even in a pre-9/11 America military personnel were treated with the highest regard. The mere sight of a military uniform would command some sort of respect from even the drunkest of hillbillies. The fact that a group of drunks would pursue a veteran into a parking lot for a fight seems incredibly far fetched. Why couldn’t he have just been a police officer? This angle would have made more sense given the public’s general disdain for cops, and would have plausibly set up the judge’s harsher sentencing based on his self-defence training. But, whatever. They had to get him on the plane somehow.

Cage gives a particularly bad performance in this movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, but he’s much better when not attempting an Alabama accent. The entire montage featuring voice overs of his letters to his daughter is so cringe worthy. Not only is his speech unconvincing, but he appears to be reading his lines with absolutely no emotion.

Is it a bad thing that the only characters I really liked were two of the murderous inmates? John Malkovich is great as evil second-in-command mastermind Cyrus Grissom. His plan to take over the plane may be completely implausible (How would they know practically every inmate who was going to be on board? How could they so successfully coordinate all of their actions from behind bars? Why would they leave any clues to the plan in a jail cell? Why would they invest so much time, energy, and resources into an explosive which doesn’t seem to improve the plan’s chances at success?), but he’s such a great actor that you almost forget all of the silliness. And, given how annoying and inept most of the good guys are, you might even root for him to succeed.

Steve Buscemi also co-stars as a serial killer. I liked his character. I hated what they did with him. Or rather, I hated everything they didn’t do with him. He’s just sort of there the whole time, but adds nothing to the plot. He’s not in on the original plan to hijack the plane. He has a tea party with a little girl and it seems like he’s going to murder her, but he doesn’t (not that I wanted him to). At the end he’s gambling in Vegas. I’m not sure if the writers were trying to make a point that even the worst criminals can be reformed, or if they were hoping for a sequel. Either way, they did not succeed. (At least for now. This has become a cult classic and the fans are continually asking for another.)

This movie also features one of the worst songs ever written, in my opinion. Sorry, Trisha Yearwood (and LeAnn Rimes), but I am not a fan.

Rating: D

One thought on “Con Air (1997)

  1. Pingback: Face/Off (1997) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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