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.