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[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]movie review by Gary Johnson

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Con Air

con Air is a magnificently stupid movie, but it contains some of the most incredible explosions ever put on film. So if you love explosions, if you love the colors red and orange and the look of flames boiling as they billow toward the sky, if you love the roar of broken propellers whizzing over your head, if you love shattered glass and showers of sparks, you'll love this movie. In the same way that The Lost World is all about digitally-created special effects, Con Air is all about giving you a front row seat for some truly amazing pyrotechnics.


Movie poster for Con Air.

Touchstone Picture and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All rights reserved.)

The big scene in Con Air features a wounded military transport plane carrying a cargo of mean-ass convicts toward the Las Vegas Strip. The plane drops like a brick while whizzing past towering neon signs and heading for a head-on collision with hundreds of automobiles. I'm giving away nothing the movie studios haven't already given away in the 30-second commercials on television. It's a great scene and the advertisers know what to reveal in order to pack in the audience. And yes, Con Air will undoubtedly pack in the audience. It feels like a big-time summer blockbuster along the lines of last summer's The Rock, also a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Both movies are chest-thumping, machismo-pumping exercises in testosterone-inflated male fantasies of a world where all that matters is maintaining enough chaos that all hell can break loose at any second. Logic counts for zero and women are virtually irrelevant, except to be endangered by rapists and other potential felons.

Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe in Con Air.

Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Nicolas Cage plays parolee Cameron Poe. He's just catching a ride home on Con Air, a high security transport airplane for transferring dangerous criminals across the country. He's anxious to see his wife and little daughter after spending an 8-year sentence in prison for unintentionally killing a man who threatened his wife. Now he just wants to get home. But the same transport is being used to ferry the most dangerous and notorious prisoners in the U.S. penal system to a new super-maximum security facility. Unfortunately for Cameron Poe, the prisoners have some plans of their own, and none of those plans involve letting the plane reach its scheduled destination. Led by Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and his band of savage "lifers" (with names like "Swamp Thing" and "Diamond Dog"), the convicts mount a takeover of the jet and hold the guards hostage. As a result, Cameron Poe must save the day. Meanwhile, John Cusack as U.S. Marshall Vince Larkin attempts to stay one step ahead of the felons and recapture the plane.

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.

Con Air Web site

Touchstone Web site

Touchstone Pictures Presents
A Jerry Bruckheimer Production


Cameron PoeNicolas Cage
LarkinJohn Cusack
Cyrus The VirusJohn Malkovich
Garland GreeneSteve Buscemi
Billy BedlamNick Chinlund
BishopRachel Ticotin
MalloyColm Meaney
Swamp ThingM.C. Gainey
Diamond DogVing Rhames
ConradBrendan Kelly
Baby-OMykelti Williamson
Johnny 23Danny Trejo
Sally Can't DanceRenoly
Francisco CindinoJessie Borrego
PinballDave Chappelle
Tricia PoeMonica Potter
Casey PoeLandry Allbright
Directed bySimon West
Produced byJerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay byScott Rosenberg
Director of PhotographyDavid Tattersall
Art DesignerEdward T. McAvoy
Music byMark Mancina
and Trevor Rabin
EditorChris Lebenzon
Steve Mirkovich
Glen Scantlebury
Visual Effects SupervisorDavid Goldberg
Executive ProducerChad Oman
Jonathan Hensleigh
Peter Bogart
Jim Kouf
Lynn Bigelow
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