Publicity photo for Con Air.
Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All rights reserved.)
The strangest development in Con Air is the attitude of the filmmakers toward the convicts. With pulsating rock'n'roll that greets the convicts on screen, the filmmakers give us convicts as rock'n'roll stars. Yeah, the convicts might have raped and killed, but the filmmakers have admiration for them. Like heavy metal rockers who try to shock us with their bad-boy behavior, the convicts are there to simultaneously shock and thrill us. We get as stars a serial rapist (a symbol for each victim is tattooed on his arm), a serial killer (who shows up fashionably-late and bound up like Hannibal Lector), a notorious killer (who caught his wife with another lover and killed her entire family, including the family dog), and many other fun characters. Like a video game where the on-screen loser has his heart ripped out, Con Air gives us violence of a particularly nasty and vicious variety (faces are smashed, a woman is assaulted, an arm gets ripped off, etc.), but it's all handled as good comic-bookish fun.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Simon West are primarily concerned with providing a big thrill ride. But the word "harrowing" doesn't really apply to Con Air. We might get locked in the transport plane along with Cameron Poe, but the filmmakers don't want anything to be truly disturbing. The music cues us to smile and just sit back. I found the mix of convicts as rock stars to be disturbing as it prompts the audience to enjoy terrible acts of violence. During the preview screening that I saw, at least two or three sickos in the audience were laughing on cue to all the punch lines (the serial rapist starts ripping off the clothes of a bound female guard--howls of laughter; a guard gets his face smashed--more howls). Con Air panders to the lowest common desires and actually encourages the audience to see violent criminals as the most exciting creatures on earth.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage grins and stumbles through his role, affecting one of the worst Southern accents you'll ever hear. John Cusack tests out his chops again in an action role (after Grosse Pointe Blank) and does surprisingly well. Steve Buscemi shows up as a serial killer, looking his usual gaunt self ("Are you sick?" a little girl asks him. "Do I look sick?" he responds.) And Ving Rhames (who starred in Rosewood) gets surprisingly little of consequence to do. The movie tries to hit you with so much razzle dazzle, with so much eye candy, that anything remotely human is demolished. All that matters are the explosions. Even a potentially chilling scene where Buscemi stumbles upon a little girl's tea party in an empty swimming pool ends up curiously flat.
Con Air isn't a bad movie; as a matter of fact, it's a gorgeously designed piece of mayhem, but it's also disturbing in the way that it treats vicious criminals as the ultimate celebrities and steam rolls over anything resembling subtlety.
Touchstone Pictures Presents
A Jerry Bruckheimer Production