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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 MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

Don Simpson may be dead, but former producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer keeps the old Simpson/Bruckheimer spirit alive with Con Air, a loud, superslick, ultramacho, and all-around entertaining blast of action and excitement.

A buffed-up Nicolas Cage stars as Cameron Poe, a decorated Army Ranger who lands in prison after killing a thug in a drunken brawl. Years pass, and the paroled Poe is one flight away from a new life with his wife (Monica Potter) and the young daughter (Landry Allbright) he has yet to meet. However, the flight he boards is one reserved for the transport of a number of the nation's most dangerous felons. Under the leadership of Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), the convicts hijack the plane, and it's up to Cameron, with the ground support of U.S. Marshal Larkin (John Cusack), to save the day.

Con Air marks the first production of the Simpson-less Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, but most, if not all, of the hallmarks of Simpson/Bruckheimer productions are here. Helming the feature is a director hired to make things look good (commercial director Simon West, best known for the spot where a boy is sucked into a Pepsi bottle); there are explosions and gunplay galore; the musical score (by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin) is loud and pounding; and, most of all, nary a trace of estrogen in evidence. There is a female guard aboard the flight (played by Rachel Ticotin), but the character is of little consequence; the same can be said of Potter's role as Cameron's wife, which is even smaller than Vanessa Marcil's analogous bit role in the final S/B production, The Rock.

This formula can grow tiresome without some refreshing tweaks, and that is where the actors, with the help of screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (who also wrote--of all things--Beautiful Girls), come in. Cage continues to carve out a niche in the action market without sacrificing his penchant for quirky roles. He is more of a traditional kick-ass action hero here than he was in The Rock, but his Cameron Poe is still an oddball--trailer park white trash with a hint of Elvis (complete with matching accent and politeness streak). Also not sacrificing any eccentricity is Malkovich, whose Cyrus the Virus is the type of effete, cerebral, and decadent character he's been playing for years in less commercial projects (most recently The Portrait of a Lady). Steve Buscemi plays one of the most bizarre characters of the bunch, notorious mass murderer Garland Greene. As written by Rosenberg and played by Buscemi, "The Mangler" is a deliciously ironic character, the con with the most notorious rap sheet and reputation--who is also, as it turns out, perhaps the most innocuous of the bunch. One con who is not fleshed out as well as he could have been is Ving Rhames's Diamond Dog, a black militant. Cusack's stressed-out Larkin is the straightest character in the piece, but he brings his own sense of vitality to the role. I'm all for interesting, unique characters, but one I could have done without is Sally Can't Dance, a flamboyantly gay, cross-dressing con played to the camp hilt by Renoly. Though his presence does set up one of the funnier throwaway gags in the film, the character is a somewhat of a drag, a superfluous flourish in a film already filled to the brim with eccentrics.

Bruckheimer films get the job done as far as action and pyrotechnics (for which the audience sees the film in the first place), but they tend to come up short is in the area of emotion. Any attempt at anything approaching serious drama, especially in a film as loud and frenetic as this, cannot help but seem like an afterthought. Even worse, these moments are played so earnestly that they come off as a joke, which is exactly what happens here with Cameron's tender moments with his wife and child. A number of people in the audience could not help but laugh because West lays on the sap about as thick as he does the explosives in the overpowering action scenes.

As action icons Stallone and Schwarzenegger creep into middle age, the time is right for the emergence of some new, fresh blood to headline action/adventure films. With The Rock and now with the thrill ride of Con Air, Nicolas Cage proves that he can not only look and play the part but also add on a layer of refreshing character dimensions and quirks to the traditional kick-ass hero. In doing so, he is truly breathing new life and then some into the action genre.

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