Con Air (1997)

There are few movies sillier than Con Air, but also few movies that are as enjoyable. I sat through the almost two hours of ridiculousness and awesomeness that this movie had to share with me, and by the end I’m not really sure if I gained anything from it, but I sure had a fun time while it was playing. There isn’t a dull moment to be had, all of the actors seem to be having a good time, and someone was having a bit too much fun with the editing tools while piecing it together. Still, like I said, it’s fun.

After using self-defense and killing a man, former Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is sent to prison, as it was ruled that he’s not allowed to defend himself since … he’s been trained to defend himself. Sure. Many years later, it’s parole day. He’s finally going to get to see his wife again, and see his daughter for the first time. To take him home, he’s put on a plane with many “lifer” prisoners. They’re the baddest of the bad. Sure enough, they take over the plane. Only Poe, his diabetic cellmate Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson), and a female guard (Rachel Ticotin) are “good” people. They’ll have to try to survive while also foiling the villains’ plan.

The bad guys are led by a crazy — but also very smart — man named Cyrus (John Malkovich). He’s the brains behind the operation. His second-in-command is Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), who acts as the muscle. There are a few other not-so-nice individuals aboard the plane, too, but these are the important two. They’ve got a plan, and for much of the film, that plan goes according to, well, plan. Ha. See what I did there?

But Cameron Poe is the most courageous and noble and all-around awesome guy around, so he’s going to defeat them. He even has a chance to leave the plane and reunite himself with his family, but chooses to stay behind because of how amazing he is. This is the kind of person who simply cannot fail. You see a movie character like this and you know what the outcome is going to be. He will use will and determination to win, and that’s all there is to it.

That helps the silliness of Con Air. One of the earliest scenes has Poe meeting his wife at a bar, all while loud music plays over the scene, making it feel just like the least serious thing ever, even though it’s supposed to be a pretty sweet scene. The music makes it silly. The film’s director, Simon West, does everything to make it look “cool” at almost every instant; you might be laughing at many of the choices of edits or camera angles featured throughout. I know I was.

The action scenes are over-the-top and ridiculous, too. So are many of the lines of dialogue. Con Air isn’t something that tries to hide how preposterous its entire production is. Instead, it embraces this fact. Its filmmakers understand they’re not going to be making a high-brow movie, so they play much of it for giggles. Sure, there are some genuinely resonating moments, but they’re few and far between. We’re here to see silly and explosions, and we get both of these things plenty of times throughout Con Air.

It’s weird how we have so many characters, played by so many great actors, and yet there’s very little personality or depth to any of them. Cage plays the hero, Malkovich plays the villain, Rhames plays the muscle, Danny Trejo plays a serial rapist, Steve Buscemi plays a weird serial killer — and yet none of them manage to make their characters go beyond these archetypes. They’re the perfect examples to list when someone asks for stock movie characters. The only exception might be the Buscemi character, whose serial killer is mild-mannered and … actually, the film is kind of ambivalent to both him and his crimes. That’s a little weird.

Some of this might sound critical, and it is, but don’t let that convince you not to watch Con Air. I’ve also mentioned how it’s lots of fun, and that is also true. Unless you’re someone who hates stupid movies, you’re likely going to have a lot of fun with Con Air. Yes, it’s silly, and no, it won’t really make you think or feel anything other than adrenaline and excitement, but it’s enjoyable and has some good action.

It also has good actors who get to do silly things and deliver outrageous lines. Nicolas Cage is … well, he’s Nicolas Cage. John Malkovich could probably play this villain role in his sleep, but he’s good at it here. John Cusack is also in the film, although his direct interactions with the plane and its passengers are limited; he stays on the ground and tries to figure out what to do. And he’s good at that! It’s surprising how committed the actors are, and how much fun they seem to be having.

Con Air is a silly, ridiculous, preposterous, absurd, and very enjoyable movie. I don’t think I’d want it any other way. When a line like “Put the bunny back in the box” is used in a threatening way, you’re onto something pretty solid. It’s not smart, its characters are archetypes, and if you don’t like this, then Con Air is not the film for you. If you, like the movie, can embrace all of those elements, you’re going to have a good time with this film.

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