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
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott