Con Air

Nashville Scene


REVIEWED: 06-13-97

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer makes the kind of movies that are referred to as thrill rides, and they are--the kind you find at a shopworn parking-lot carnival, where grizzled fugitives stand prepared to blow town if the Tilt-A-Whirl pitches Aunt Marge into the next county. Con Air is the latest excursion into BruckheimerLand, the muy-macho theme park where all women are potential rape victims, gays are too worthless to beat up, and the villains score laughs with racist wisecracks about Affirmative Action and Ebonics. But hey, they're villains.

Actually, in this high-concept popcorn picture, even the heroes are villains--or more accurately, they're criminals, shackled aboard a top-security prison-transport flight. Sharing the ride is a paroled ex-soldier, Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), en route to see his wife and the daughter he's never met. When hardened lifers seize control of the plane, Poe must battle his fellow inmates, contact the authorities, and still deliver a stuffed bunny on time for his daughter's birthday.

Less bruising and more fun (for awhile) than last year's blockheaded The Rock, Con Air is essentially an airborne version of the much better The Dirty Dozen, right down to the demographically chosen passenger list. I could've done without the serial rapist Johnny 23 (a fearsome Danny Trejo), whose only purpose is to menace Rachel Ticotin's female guard--but without him there's no reason for her to be on the flight, since women in BruckheimerLand are either arm candy or victims. What's more, a tea party between a little girl and a serial killer is a sick tease even by the movie's nihilistic standards.

On the plus side, John Malkovich's arch mastermind and his scurvy gang of cutthroats, including Ving Rhames and M.C. Gainey, get the snarkiest lines in Scott Rosenberg's script, and they pop every zinger home. As a Lecter-like mass murderer, the great Steve Buscemi doesn't get much to say, but his one-sentence commentary on Lynyrd Skynyrd gets the movie's biggest laugh, and his zonked calm shows the power of shrewd underplaying. As for the heroes, Cage essentially does a steroidal H.I. McDonough, John Cusack has some droll moments as a U.S. marshal, and Monica Potter is appealing beyond the call of duty in her few scenes as Cage's wife.

Just as the movie starts to work up some steam, the filmmakers crap out with a dull desert shoot-out and a standard-issue explosionfest on the Las Vegas Strip, edited (like the rest of the movie) into an implausible, incoherent frenzy of establishing shots, poorly matched special effects, and stuff blowing up God knows where. Director Simon West, another faceless drudge in Bruckheimer's army, employs The Rock's principle of montage: count to one and cut. If you've seen everything out there and you still crave a dumb big-budget action movie, this'll suffice until a good one comes along. Me, I think I'll rent the 1974 Burt Reynolds vehicle The Longest Yard--an anti-authoritarian prison comedy ballsy enough to blow Con Air away.

--Jim Ridley

Full Length Reviews
Con Air
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