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Con Air

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Con Air

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich
Director: Simon West
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 1997
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: John Cusack, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Colm Meaney, Rachel Ticotin, Mykelti Williamson, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey

Review by Andrew Hicks
2½ stars out of 4

The titles change, but the rest is the same. Summer action movies have become a staple of modern cinema, and CON-AIR does little to distinguish itself from the rest. It's got a lot of low-brow entertainment in the form of violence, explosions and bad one- liners. It makes the good and bad characters appealing with big- name veterans of the genre, like Nicolas Cage (THE ROCK) and John Malkovich (IN THE LINE OF FIRE).

Both of those movies were far classier in their presentation of the action essentials. IN THE LINE OF FIRE actually had a little in the way of character development and characters we cared about and THE ROCK featured high school level writing, with some good moments that reminded us the characters themselves knew they were stuck in an unbelievable action movie. CON-AIR is written on the junior high level, and these characters go through the routine in predictable fashion. The three most popular settings for action flicks are cruise ships, the middle of nowhere and airplanes. Since the current releases SPEED 2 and BREAKDOWN have taken the first two settings, CON-AIR appropriates the airplane motif, as you no doubt guessed from the title. Call it PASSENGER 58.

First comes the obligatory prologue. Some action movies skip this and go straight into the action, but CON-AIRwants us to take it somewhat seriously, so we see returning soldier Cage meet up with his barmaid wife for a romantic slow dance. A bunch of drunks have their eyes on her and end up attacking Cage in the parking lot (yes, it's raining cats and dogs at the time). He accidentally kills one and is sent off to jail for a 10-year sentence.

Flash forward about 8 years. Cage is being paroled and his cellmate, played by Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from FORREST GUMP), is coming with him. Yeah, they're going on the giant convict airplane that's being used to transport some of the worst criminals in the country. The Clintons always fly first class on it. So it's a planeful of crazies and Cage, with long messianic hair and a week's worth of George Michael stubble.

Security is top-notch on con-air, as always, but three or four of the prisoners manage to take over the plane in less than five minutes, an amazing ode to the American attention span. Malkovich is the ringleader and his right-hand-man is Ving "Marsellus" Rhames, a black power type with his own hidden agenda. That angle is never developed, though, because that would be plot, and we can't handle plot in a movie like this. We just have to remember who's bad and who's good.

Besides Cage, there aren't too many on the right side of the law. There's a chained guard (Rachel Ticotin) who spends most of her time being eyed by a big rapist, and a U.S. Marshall (John Cusack) who manages to figure everything out at the exact right time to further the action. Cusack himself becomes an action hero toward the end, more proof that even the most serious actors can be lured into the world of dumb action movies. Hell, Cage won an Oscar last year, Malkovich was nominated for one and here they both are trading comic book one-liners and shooting at each other. We even have indie film great Steve Buscemi as a child molester who spends most of his time commenting on the action instead of participating in it.

CON-AIRcould have been better, if the dialogue was worthy of the actors who spoke it and perhaps the writers hadn't tried so hard to throw in every action cliche in the book. It also has a disturbing side to it, with all the talk from the rapists and child molesters, that keeps it from being completely fun to watch. Otherwise, it's all the usual auto-pilot stuff, even an obligatory Las Vegas chase climax aboard a fire truck. It's James Bond without the class.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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