The titles change, but the rest is the same. Summer action
movies have become a staple of modern cinema, and CON-AIR does
little to distinguish itself from the rest. It's got a lot of low-brow
entertainment in the form of violence, explosions and bad one-
liners. It makes the good and bad characters appealing with big-
name veterans of the genre, like Nicolas Cage (THE ROCK) and
John Malkovich (IN THE LINE OF FIRE).
Both of those movies were far classier in their presentation
of the action essentials. IN THE LINE OF FIRE actually had a little
in the way of character development and characters we cared about
and THE ROCK featured high school level writing, with some good
moments that reminded us the characters themselves knew they
were stuck in an unbelievable action movie. CON-AIR is written on
the junior high level, and these characters go through the routine in
predictable fashion. The three most popular settings for action flicks
are cruise ships, the middle of nowhere and airplanes. Since the
current releases SPEED 2 and BREAKDOWN have taken the first
two settings, CON-AIR appropriates the airplane motif, as you no
doubt guessed from the title. Call it PASSENGER 58.
First comes the obligatory prologue. Some action movies
skip this and go straight into the action, but CON-AIRwants us to
take it somewhat seriously, so we see returning soldier Cage meet up
with his barmaid wife for a romantic slow dance. A bunch of drunks
have their eyes on her and end up attacking Cage in the parking lot
(yes, it's raining cats and dogs at the time). He accidentally kills one
and is sent off to jail for a 10-year sentence.
Flash forward about 8 years. Cage is being paroled and his
cellmate, played by Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from FORREST
GUMP), is coming with him. Yeah, they're going on the giant
convict airplane that's being used to transport some of the worst
criminals in the country. The Clintons always fly first class on it.
So it's a planeful of crazies and Cage, with long messianic hair and
a week's worth of George Michael stubble.
Security is top-notch on con-air, as always, but three or four
of the prisoners manage to take over the plane in less than five
minutes, an amazing ode to the American attention span. Malkovich
is the ringleader and his right-hand-man is Ving "Marsellus"
Rhames, a black power type with his own hidden agenda. That angle
is never developed, though, because that would be plot, and we can't
handle plot in a movie like this. We just have to remember who's
bad and who's good.
Besides Cage, there aren't too many on the right side of the
law. There's a chained guard (Rachel Ticotin) who spends most of
her time being eyed by a big rapist, and a U.S. Marshall (John
Cusack) who manages to figure everything out at the exact right
time to further the action. Cusack himself becomes an action hero
toward the end, more proof that even the most serious actors can be
lured into the world of dumb action movies. Hell, Cage won an
Oscar last year, Malkovich was nominated for one and here they
both are trading comic book one-liners and shooting at each other.
We even have indie film great Steve Buscemi as a child molester
who spends most of his time commenting on the action instead of
participating in it.
CON-AIRcould have been better, if the dialogue was worthy
of the actors who spoke it and perhaps the writers hadn't tried so
hard to throw in every action cliche in the book. It also has a
disturbing side to it, with all the talk from the rapists and child
molesters, that keeps it from being completely fun to watch.
Otherwise, it's all the usual auto-pilot stuff, even an obligatory Las
Vegas chase climax aboard a fire truck. It's James Bond without the
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks