Con Air

Tucson Weekly


REVIEWED: 06-12-97

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 over heat.

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 his safety.

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 Malkovich lacks.

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, sweaty.

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 Air.

--James DiGiovanna

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