Movie Review: Con Air

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Former army ranger and convict Cameron Poe hitches a ride to freedom on a plane full of prisoners being transferred, but the prisoners turn the table and take over the plane in order to escape.

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Simon West, 1997

Upon his return from service, army ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is reunited with his pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter) for one evening. That night, some drunken hicks attack Cameron and Tricia, and Cameron accidentally kills one while defending himself and his wife. A judge sentences him to 7 years in prison for manslaughter. On the day of Cameron’s release, he decides to hop on board a prisoner transport plane that’s heading back to his home city in order to get back and meet his daughter sooner. Unfortunately for Poe, the prisoners have hatched a plan to escape using the plane. Now Poe must fight for his life and the life of his diabetic friend Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson) while trying to get home. His only ally is Agent Vince Larkin (John Cusack), the man responsible for the plane and its passengers.

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Con Air is a weird sort of movie. Nothing about it should work. Nicolas Cage’s hair threatens to steal every scene until he starts speaking in a Southern accent and steals it right back. Meanwhile, there’s a constant struggle for scene-stealing supremacy by scenery-chewing baddies like John Malkovich’s hacker-killer Cyrus the Virus, Dave Chapelle’s loud-mouthed addict Pinball, Danny Trejo’s serial rapist Johnny-23, and most of all Steve Buscemi’s surreal serial killer Garland Greene. It’s an incredible racist, sexist, and homophobic movie with absolutely no character journeys for anyone (except maybe Colm Meaney’s “bad” cop, who spends the whole movie being both a) and asshole and b) right before ultimately sharing a random bonding moment with Cusack in the last five minutes). The movie never quite recovers from the fact that Poe should never have been sentenced for seven years for what was VERY CLEARLY defending his life and the lives of his wife and unborn child. He’s too much of a good guy from the start. It’s a testosterone-fuelled roller coaster ride that never lets up the tension or 90s soundtrack for a moment, and yet it’s weirdly watchable.

The tension is palpable, the explosions are big, and the action is pumping. For all his faults (he’s way too old for the role, his accent is bizarre) Nicolas Cage makes a compelling action lead. The movie never gets boring. There are a number of really gross, offensive moments, and some very questionable, weird stuff with a Steve Buscemi redemption arc. He isn’t even introduced until act 2, and yet his story drives an entire B-plot for the remainder of the movie. The movie looks great, the bright, high-contrast, dusty palette working well with the desert setting for some awesome-looking scenes. The story is dumb and has plot holes the size of Ving Rhames’ guns, but it’s still entertaining. There’s a huge death toll, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. You have to switch your brain off to get the most out of it, but fortunately, after the first explosion, your brain probably won’t be working any more anyway.

Con Air on IMDb

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