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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
3½ stars out of 4

Every summer Hollywood rolls out the latest batch of mega-movies, upping the ante each year with better special effects and bigger explosions. After months of promotional bombardment, we dutifully trot to the theaters, becoming more jaded with each cinematic thrill ride. What a headache it must be for the West Coast big boys as they try to figure out how to top themselves. For Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the utterly superficial and enormously successful flicks TOP GUN, CRIMSON TIDE and THE ROCK, the answer is simple. Hire a group of extremely well-respected character actors, give them large injections of testosterone, take a story that barely even nods at credibility, then press the accelerator to the floor for two hours and blow the hell out of anything that moves. The result is extremely entertaining and utterly vapid; a hoot of a summer movie that succeeds because of its own excess. To paraphrase an old Cheech and Chong bit, CON AIR is shit, but it's good shit.

CON AIR works because the filmmakers are acutely aware of just how ridiculous their movie is, and they let us in on the joke. Early in the action/thriller about a group of convicts who hijack a prison transport plane, we meet the bad boys. As each convict makes his grandiose entrance, reproachful prison officials read their names and stats in the same fashion announcers use during Pro-Wrestling introductions. There's Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames,) murderer and Black militant. Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo,) a serial rapist who adds another heart-shaped tattoo for each new victim. Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi,) a soft-spoken Hannilbal Lecter clone, and a host of other larger-than-life monsters. The group's leader is Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, a glib psychopath played with extreme gusto by John Malkovich. Alone, any of these characters would make a memorable villain. Together, they create a riotous sense of overkill. Watching these guys is like visiting a Manson Family reunion.

Now for the good guys. A pumped-up Nicholas Cage plays Cameron Poe, a celebrated Army Ranger finishing a prison term for killing a man while defending his wife. Cage anchors the film beautifully, using his RAISING ARIZONA accent and a single-minded fixation on doing the right thing at any cost to create a corn-pone Superman. Cage's Poe has the deadly earnestness of Gregory Peck and the fighting skills of Bruce Lee on steroids. The combination is absurd, but set next to the planeload of scenery-gnashing bad guys, he seems positively normal. While Poe tries to sabotage the hijacking in order to assist a friend and rescue a female prison guard, corrections officials on the ground work on damage control. Colm Meany, the great dough-faced Celtic actor from STAR TREK:TNG and DEEP SPACE NINE, plays a blustery D.E.A. agent battling John Cusack, a liberal U.S. Marshall trying to use reason to defuse the situation. Eventually, Cusack joins forces with Cage for the requisite battle to the bitter end with Malkovich and his cronies.

Along the way, CON AIR lobs a staggering barrage of violence, explosions, stunts, and fight scenes, including a whale of a set piece involving a sports car. The pace is frenetic, and could have easily become enervating were it not for the crisp, witty dialogue. As silly as CON AIR's story is, the script is sharp, with clever one-liners judiciously placed throughout the action. Cage, Cusack and Malkovich are particularly adept at delivering wisecracks at just the right moments.

CON AIR's combination of over-the-top action and off-the-wall humor works well for most of the film. Bruckheimer doesn't know when to quit though, and drags things out a wee bit too long, with a gratuitous battle in Las Vegas. As a former resident of Las Vegas, I'm delighted with Hollywood's fixation on blowing up the town, but CON AIR's Vegas battle comes several minutes after a scene that easily could have served as the climax of the film. There really was no need for yet another battle and besides, MARS ATTACKS blew up Las Vegas much better.

I've avoided giving many of the particulars from CON AIR because it's much more fun to see this sort of thing yourself. If you're looking for a film of substance, avoid this machismo-fest at all costs. If, however, you want to see a hyper-violent, funny, patently absurd movie virtually intoxicated on its own cheekiness, try CON AIR. You'll never mistake it for art, but as far as summer movies go, this is a pretty effective thrill machine.

Copyright 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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