Welcome to the silly season. It's summer, and every weekend
brings a new hundred million dollar action movie. (Some price tags
being slightly less.) Serious movies avoid the heat of summer when
people's brains are fried. This diminution of mental capacity causes
movie goers to flock to blockbusters promising even louder explosions
than the film the week before.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose middle name must be "excess,"
last year gave us THE ROCK. Remember the car chase in it that felt
like it was on a Moebius strip and would never end? Well, that was
subtle filmmaking compared to the fireworks style extravaganza that
ends his latest picture CON AIR. Of course, that part is set in the
town that loves people who overindulge -- Las Vegas. The worst part of
the conclusion is that when you breathe a slight of relief that this
repetitive and overly long film is finally over, it isn't.
But I am getting ahead of myself. As one who has sat through CON
AIR, it is easy to dwell on the ending credits since that means you can
leave. Still, along the way, Scott Rosenberg's script does have many
good one-liners to amuse us, and CON AIR works best as a comedy.
You've seen all of the stunts and special effects before so there is
little left to focus on other than the acting, which stays at the comic
book level, and the dialog.
I kept thinking that if their budget were cut in half, they would
have made a better picture. If the special effects department were put
on a much stricter budget, the show might have had to develop the
characters beyond caricature.
A frequent complaint about movies is that the villain is not
strong enough, but here the movie is populated by a plethora of bad
guys. "The worst of the worst" prisoners are being transported on the
a U. S. Marshal's airplane, which the inmates nickname Con Air (Convict
Airlines), to a new maximum security prison. The U. S. Marshal in
charge is Vince Larkin (John Cusack from GROSS POINTE BLANK), who
quotes Dostoevski and talks like a walking thesaurus.
The hero of the picture is Cameron Poe played by Nicolas Cage, the
great character actor from LEAVING LAS VEGAS who seems to be slumming
by taking this part. Eight years ago, ex-Army Ranger Cameron killed a
man trying to harm his pregnant wife Tricia, played with fashion model
beauty by Monica Potter. Cameron is about to be paroled and is
hitching his way back on Con Air for his release.
This flight is transporting every manner of criminal including a
Hannibal Lecter clone named Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene,
played by Steve Buscemi in a horrible bit of miscasting. One con tells
us that "the way he killed the people, he made the Manson Family look
like the Partridge Family." Get the point. These guys are bad, bad,
bad. Or as Cameron puts it, "Somehow they managed to get every creep
and freak in the universe on this one plane."
The leader of the convicts, Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, is played
by John Malkovich in his perennial slime ball, intellectual role.
"Cyrus is a poster child for the criminally insane," according to
As the plane is being loaded, Larkin assures his coworker that
there is no reason to worry about the operation. "This is a well oiled
machine," he tells her. "All we have to worry about is stale peanuts
and a little bit of turbulence." For the three people in the world who
haven't seen the trailers and know nothing of the movie, this line is a
tip off that all hell is about to break loose.
If you want to have fun in the picture, bring a pad and keep a
count of the story's illogical aspects. My favorite involves the
number of guns the guards take on board the plane to protect
themselves. Want to venture a guess? It's one little pistol that the
pilot keeps in a locked box in the cockpit. When the inevitable break
occurs in mid-air, the lack of guns becomes a severe handicap for the
guards. But boy-oh-boy do lots of people die anyway.
In order to appeal to women, the movie was supposedly softened up
by Cage's adding little family touches like his stuffed bunny. (At a
key point, Cyrus actually threatens Cameron with "Make a move and the
bunny gets it!") Disney is marketing the film's almost non-existent
love story angle in an attempt to broaden the demographics of the
audience. Even religion enters the picture when Cameron tells his
dying buddy, "I'm going to show you that God does exist."
Like a roulette player that plays it safe by betting on all the
numbers, this movie does not miss anything. Did I mention that there
is a transvestite named "Sally Can't Dance" (Renoly), a black militant
named Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), and a tattooed rapist
named John "Johnny 23" Baca (Danny Trejo)? Johnny has 23 counts of
rape but brags the real number is 600.
Although I had fun listening to the dialog, the show is pure
balderdash and about as imaginative as Saturday morning cartoons. A
rock 'em, sock 'em, meaningless time at the movies.
CON AIR runs 1:55. It is rated R for strong violence and
language. The violence was cartoonish enough so that the film is
probably acceptable for most teenagers. I cannot recommend the show
although I did laugh often enough to give it **.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes