IN THIS AGE of AIDS, Hollywood gay cinema has been disappointingly
chaste. Longtime Companion, which perhaps initiated the
contemporary gay film, features only one scene of men in bed together,
and in that scene the lovers turn away from each other and go
to sleep without even kissing, emphasizing the chilling effect
the plague has had on intimacy, but depriving the audience of
voyeuristic pleasure. In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks never
kisses his lover, and their bodies are hidden beneath gray suits,
completely obscuring any glimpse of man-flesh. Even films far
from the Hollywood mainstream like My Beautiful Launderette
failed to deliver the kind of vivid display of manly bodies that
audiences so crave, instead aping Hollywood in emphasizing commitment
Well, all that has changed with Con Air, the hottest piece
of man-action this side of a Jeff Stryker flick. Bulging, glistening
pectorals are the stars of this pulsating visual tribute to testosterone,
providing a growling festival of sinew, sweat and sexuality.
The story begins with Cameron Poe's (Nicholas Cage) honorable
discharge from the all-male world of the Army Ranger Corps, where
he is commended for obeying the Ranger's central tenet, "Never
leave a fallen man's behind" (or maybe it was "Never
leave a fallen man behind"--I'm not sure I heard correctly).
He returns to his "wife" (played by Monica Potter, whose
flawless skin deserves top billing), who's three months pregnant.
As Poe has been away at some distant army base, his wife's pregnancy
is a bit of a mystery. That is, until we realize Poe's true predilection.
He immediately gets into a fight so as to be thrown into a federal
prison, perhaps aching for a return to the man-on-man world of
his beloved Ranger Corps. Gallantly allowing his wife the freedom
to engage in her degenerate heterosexual behavior, Poe finds solace
in the close "friendship" of his cellmate Baby-O.
After eight years Poe is to be released, and he and Baby-O board
a prison transport plane which will take Poe to freedom and Baby-O
to a newly built high security federal prison.
On this plane bursting with rippling, masculine offenders, trouble
ensues when celebrity criminal Cyrus the Virus (played by John
Malkovich in his standard calculating-psycho style) commandeers
the aircraft, allowing the prisoners to burst free from their
shackles and flex their muscular bodies in the aisles and restrooms.
Most of the prisoners are, of course, thrilled to go along with
the plan, except for our friend Poe, who is concerned about his
companion Baby-O, who desperately needs an insulin shot.
So great is Poe's love for the supremely masculine but sadly
diabetic Baby-O that he refuses to leave the plane when given
the opportunity, turning his back on the heterosexual world represented
by his wife and baby girl. Instead, he stays with Baby-O to ensure
All the prisoners seem to have each others' respect, except for
a wimpy heterosexual named "Pinball," and "Johnny
23," a rapist of women. Cyrus tells Johnny that rapists of
women are tantamount to "that white stuff that collects in
the corners of your mouth." Later, Cyrus and Poe must stop
Johnny from raping a female prison official whom the prisoners
have taken hostage. With Johnny safely chained in the back of
the plane, the men ignore the female guard while they ogle a male,
transvestite prisoner who's dancing suggestively in front of the
"cockpit." I'm not making any of this up.
Anyway, a clear struggle is set up between various sexual factions:
Malkovich plays the controlled and powerful leader, a man to be
respected, but one who's ultimately flawed. Cage represents the
man dedicated to another man but with sympathy for womankind,
a symbol of potency but also of tenderness, the capacity that
Then there are the evil and degenerate heterosexual prisoners,
Johnny 23 and Pinball (played by David Chapelle), whose lust for
women causes his death early in the film.
Although Malkovich and Cage form a manly alliance against woman-desiring
Johnny 23, they ultimately must clash to decide which model of
manhood should prevail: ruthless efficiency or compassionate potency.
The film really acquires immediacy when the prisoner's plane
must be dug out of a dirt airstrip. The well-endowed prisoners
all strip to the waist and begin sweating and grunting as they
struggle to free the craft.
For the rest of the film, even when they're flying at 12,000
feet with the windows open, the men remain shirtless, and, oddly,
There are sub-plots involving John Cusack as a federal marshal
with a big crush on Nicholas Cage's character; Colm Meaney as
an evil DEA agent; and Monica Potter as Poe's wife, who mostly
just looks worried, perhaps about the damage that all the film's
explosions could cause to her perfect complexion.
Unfortunately, the explosions are allowed to carry the bulk of
the interest in the film, and it suffers as many action films
do from lack of character, plot or any real motivating factor.
The producers seem to think the only reason people come to the
movies is to see how many different things can be blown up. The
pyrotechnics can't distract from the fact that the plot has holes
big enough to service John Holmes.
The movie does have one cinematic innovation: There is a joke
in the trailer that is not in the film. In the preview, John Malkovich
looks at a car being towed through the air by the plane and says,
"It looks like we're being followed." In the movie,
it's Nicholas Cage's character who notices the car and he says,
"On any other day that would seem strange." While neither
of these jokes is entirely hilarious, I like the idea of trying
to put something funny in the trailer that does not give away
one of the (few) funny moments in the film. However, other than
that and the delicious beefcake, there's little to recommend Con