REVIEW: CON AIR (1997)

Shooty: 4/5 Kicky: 4/5 Boomy-boom: 5/5

Enjoy with: Miniatures. Round up every tiny bottle of spirit you’ve got and diligently knock them back until you’re down to zero. I don’t want to hear how mixing spirits is terrible for you – that’s a myth spread by people who don’t want to get drunk on miniatures. If you find yourself lacking in travel-sized alcohol, invest instead in a smooth drinking whiskey. Go for one that’s easy but not dreadfully bland or overly sweet. Jonnie Walker Black Label is a good shout. Want something cheaper? Download Pixar’s Planes and snort a Smirnoff Ice. Prick.

What? Did you say something? I can’t hear you over the tens of millions dollars worth of explosions that are blowing up my mind!

Hang on, let me open the hatch and dump out some dead weight so we can focus on the fucking gold nuggets of this film. Out goes a full house of stereotypical prison baddies – rapist, ex-militant, the one dude who looks like he drives a Harley! Next, say au revoir to a weird subplot about a DEA agent whose flash car draws too much attention to his penis! Finally, wave goodbye to any inhibitions you might have about a paedophile redemption story*!

“Con Air” is an action caper about a gang of prisoners (CON-victs) who hijack an aeroplane (AIR) in hope to escape imprisonment and get back to real life, worrying about bills ‘n’ shit.

Leading this flock of jailbirds is Cyrus “The Virus” (John Malkovich – one of only six actors licensed to play villains), a criminal mastermind so brilliant that no ordinary get-away car would do. With little effort, Cyrus and co hijack an American military-grade prison transport carrier, declaring all the men abroad free to go back to their daily acts of villainy.

Alls well on this party plane of pain until an ethical stowaway, armed with a pink bunny and overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness, tips off the narks. No guesses who it is – our hero, Cameron Poe (Nic Cage at his most ripped).

With long flowing locks and the tender eyes of a lamb, Poe attempts to deceive the other hardasses that he’s game while secretly undermining their entire operation. Try not read too much into his pitifully transparent performance with the other inmates – the air is probably very thin up there. There are more important things to come. Like an airfield showdown where the approaching cavalry gets blasted by hundreds of gas canisters; followed by a hail of bullets so severe that John Cusack, the aforementioned DEA nark, needs a fucking snow plough to withstand the onslaught.

Much like the plough, the film generously piles heaps of tension throughout. Keeping it so creatively fresh that watching it feels like the reinvention of the action movie. To name a few highlights there are machine-gunning helicopters, fistfights to the death, a flying sports car and the casual destruction of the Vegas strip.

All in all, it’s a casebook example of how to entertain an audience hungry for exhibitionist displays of big boomy-booms. However, the film’s genius is in the way it balances high stakes conflict with the polarity between Cyrus and Poe.

In perfect contrast to Cyrus’s need for death and violence, Poe seeks out medicine and gentleness. Where Cyrus fan girls over cannibalistic molesters, and encourages rampant barbarity; Poe is tip-toeing about saving lives. Heck, he prevents the execution of hostages, delivers insulin to a diabetic, and rescues a woman from rape – while also lecturing the attacker on the appropriate way to treat women. Poe’s miraculous acts of heroism so unbelievable at times that it borders on the biblical. But judging by his hair, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned water into wine.

The picture’s only drawback is the constant exposition of how Poe’s relationship with the daughter he never met is the emotional engine force propelling the action. Apparently, his sole mission is to hand deliver a toy rabbit for her birthday. Meh. Granted it set up some great lines about the jeopardy of a pink bunny. But I don’t think anyone set out to write a movie centred around the reconnection of a man and his daughter with an aeroplane skirmish thrown in the middle. “Con Air” is some genius’s come-alive fantasy about a plane full of trigger-happy hoodlums, who fuck shit up and go to Vegas.

I mean, if you like that emotional attachment stuff or it resonates with deep issues about your parents’ misplaced love, then, sure. Those little tidbits of Nic Cage brooding over the love of his child might add an extra splash of water to the mix. But if you’re looking for bold, brash taste of combat mayhem, then it’s a tedious device to get us from explosion A to explosion B.

At the end of the day, “Con Air” is an action masterpiece that marries the war between criminal nastiness vs sacrificial bravado with just the right dose of big boomy-booms. So buckle your seatbelt, ignore the safety instructions, and make eyes across the aisle with a very swole Cage. Who, with a wink and a smile, will seduce you into becoming a member of an exceptional mile high club.

Runtime: 115mins
Certificate: 15– answers to the question, “how can I live without you”?
Dir: Simon West
Writers: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cuska, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin, Nick Chinlund, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey, Monica Potter

*I’m not joking about the Paedophile. They let him off the hook and give him a fucking cocktail.