Monday, February 3, 2014

Con Air (1997)

The summer of 1997 was a good one for me.  I was getting set for college, life was good and there was an abundance of great/cheesy action movies to see in theaters.  Our subject today is one I saw not just once, but twice... Because I have good taste.

Con Air is essentially another riff on Die Hard only with the volume and adrenaline level jacked up to insane levels as a parolee on his way to see his wife and daughter has to save the day after the transport plane he is on is hijacked by the most violent criminals in history.  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Nicolas Cage (plus virtually every other popular character actor from the mid to late 90's), it is a hilariously over the top, delirious joy ride that straddles the line between just plain bad and so bad it's simply awesome.  We'll be going a little more in depth here, so let's take a closer look.  And buckle up.
  • We get a good idea of what we're in for right off the bat with Trevor Rabin's... Interesting score.  Most of it sounds like a blend of synth riffs, electric guitar and just a touch of what it must sound like when a guy in a suit of armor begins to chafe.  Add the Trisha Yearwood song to that and you can make an easy case for me being a complete dumbass for buying the soundtrack when it came out.
  • In the first few minutes, we are introduced to our gallant hero for the evening.  Cameron Poe (Cage) is an Army Ranger who has just finished up his tour and is coming home to his pregnant wife.  Cage's voice really has to be heard to be believed.  I've heard actual folks from the South talk and none of them ever sounded like Cage does here.  Granted, I have never gotten hammered with someone from that region so it is entirely possible Nic did his research over a bottle of Wild  Turkey with some friends.
  • This is also the role that sealed Cage's fate as an action hero.  Sure, he did The Rock before this but the double whammy of Con Air and Face/Off, released within a few weeks of each other no less, guaranteed he would get many more action roles.  I actually have to give him credit though, winning an Oscar and upon essentially being given carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted, deciding "I want to be an action hero!"  I gotta give the guy credit for that.
  • The way Poe ends up prison is just hilariously stupid.  Not the bar fight where he accidentally kills a guy, no.  I'm talking the aftermath where an open and shut self-defense case gets shot to hell by some bad advice from a lawyer and maybe the stupidest judge in film history.  The end result is a 7-10 year sentence and we have our setup, folks!
  • The opening credits are a enjoyably maudlin affair as Poe gets and sends letters to his daughter while bulking up and letting his hair grow out.  Fun fact: when you let Nicolas Cage grow his hair out and stop shaving for a week while putting him in the gym, the end result is a jacked-up, southern-fried Jesus.  It's a little weird to see, really.  Funny as hell, though.
  • The film has a few things working in its favor:  First off is the hilariously great cast.  Cage is fun as usual.  Besides looking and sounding hilarious, he does well enough in the action scenes though it is rather odd to see essentially Jesus beating the crap out of cons and running from explosions.  And by odd, I mean awesome.  Best of all is Poe stalking down the plane towards the cockpit, tossing cons around like he's The Hulk and shrugging off a bullet wound like its nothing.
  • John Malkovich is pretty solid as main villain Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom.  Really more of a comic book villain than actually scary (in fact, most of the main baddies have cheesy nicknames and over the top backstories), Malkovich hams it up quite nicely.
  • The rest of the villains are fairly solid with Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi standing out.  Buscemi in particular is entertaining as he is supposed to be one of the most deranged serial killers of all time... Which he pulls off by underplaying it.  It's pretty good, actually and if this wasn't a big, stupid, cheesy action movie he'd be right at home in a thriller, probably chasing Ashley Judd given the time in which the film was made.
  • On a side note, is there any film with Ashley Judd in it released between 1997 and 2002 where she's not being menaced in some way?  My guess would be it's a short list.
  • On the side of right and virtue, we have John Cusack in full-on "I'm doing this big action movie to finance a smaller project" mode as a U.S. Marshal and Colm Meaney as a jerky DEA agent who has a guy on the inside.  Naturally, said inside man ends up being exposed and killed and Meaney gets all gung-ho about killing the entire plane, non-deranged psychos included.  Both are solid and Cusack in particular is quite funny.  Rachel Ticotin is also on hand as a prison guard who Danny Trejo's deranged rapist character has eyes on.
  • The other thing the film has going for it is just how brutally cliched is is.  Yes, that is a positive since it pretty much lets the story tell itself while the cast has a good time.  We get everything but the kitchen sink with the standard best friend of the hero whose life is in danger; the pretty guard who needs to be saved, the usual sort of byplay between the good guys and bad guys in any respectable Die Hard situation and of course, the slick stylized action one expects from a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.  Simon West also does pretty well for himself here, making his directorial debut.  He's do even better work in The Expendables 2.  In fact his work here is one of the things that made me positive about that project.
  •  The film is also smart enough to keep things light for the most part, never letting things get too dark.  It really is a comic book action movie in the best way.
  • Action is pretty standard with the usual fist fights, shootouts and over the top stunts.  Best of all is the plane crash landing on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's a nicely overblown sequence, though it probably should have ended the film.  The last little action scene where Poe and Larkin go after Cyrus and two other cons is okay with a nicely overdone death for Cyrus.  First he's handcuffed to a fire truck ladder... Then the truck crashes through a glass walkway, sending Cyrus over a long drop into an industrial area where he lands on a conveyor belt.  Then a pneumatic pounder.
Con Air takes the standard 80's action movie and gives it a nice 90's polish.  It's loud, stupid and cheesy but damn it's a fun ride.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.