Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

CON AIR (1997) **

Directed by Simon West. Written by Scott Rosenberg. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Pictures / Buena Vista Pictures.Photography, David Tattersall. Editing, Chris Lebenzon, Steve Mirkovich. Music, Mark Mancina, Trevor Rabin. Special effects, Computer Film Company / Dream Quest. Cast: Nicolas Cage (Cameron Poe), John Cusack (US Marshal Vince Larkin), John Malkovich (Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom), Steve Buscemi (Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene),Nick Chinlund (Billy "Billy Bedlam" Bedform), Rachel Ticotin (Guard Sarah Bishop), Colm Meaney (Agent Duncan Malloy), M.C. Gainey (Jimmy Earl "Swamp Thing" West), Ving Rhames (Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones), Brendan Kelly (Conrad), Mykelti Williamson (Baby O), Danny Trejo (John "Johnny 23" Baca), Renoly (Sally Can't Dance), et al. A Buena Vista release. 115 min. Rated R (extreme violence and language).
As I staggered from the excesses of "Con Air" into the daylight, I thought that the category this and many other pictures belong to is "Traction Movies," short for Trash and Action. What sets "Con Air" in a niche within Traction films, seems to be that no other film I remember has had such a colossal number of camera shots.

This is done by keeping them brief and keeping them coming at you at an average rate of about one shot per second. Since, minus final credits, this movie runs about 112 minutes, times 60 this makes it a total of 6720 seconds or 6720 images. If I am wrong, it still feels that way.

Thanks to a cast of able actors (Cage, Cusack, Malkovich, Buscemi, others) the film survives. The performers, given a lot to do physically and very little thespianly are caricatural, one-dimensional cliches, yet each does the most with what he has. The good guys (plus Guard Rachel Ticotin) though not always pleasant, are in law enforcement. The much-worse-than-bad, arch-criminal guys are convicts.

The real hero, however, is Cameron Poe whom Nicholas Cage plays with a drawl and with what might just be a certain amount of boredom. As a just discharged ace Army Ranger, he meets his pretty (blonde, of course) waitress wife who is pregnant. Defending her against some drunken scum, he accidentally kills one of them.

This involuntary manslaughter sends Cage to the pen for eight years in an unlikely miscarriage of justice. The man is a model prisoner. He keeps fit, betters himself, reads constantly, does origami, corresponds sweetly with wife and daughter -- and in case you missed that fleeting shot, also has a lithograph of Jesus on his wall.

Paroled, Cage is improbably put on a special plane, a flying high-security jail, along with a bunch of the worst serial killers, serial rapists and serial you-name-it imaginable. Not merely The Dirty Dozen but the Amazingly Filthy And Then Some Dozen. In ways that stun one's imagination, the cons, though thoroughly searched, carry the means to take over the plane. They do just that, triggering the Law's search for and duels with, the beastly hijackers.

Their leader is Cyrus the Virus (Malkovich) whose viciousness is matched by his amazingly high I.Q. and who initially wears an absurd Hannibal Lecter mask. The smartest lawman is John Cusack, whose efforts are complicated by Agent Colm Meaney, here a sort of meanie, but familiar as a wonderfully warm Irish dad in "The Snapper," and warm too in the lesser "The Van."

Cage is, of course, The Man Who Will Save the Situation. A Great Guy through and through, at times almost saintly, he must vanquish the criminals if he wants to see his family, also to save Guard Ticotin from rape and to get insulin for his best buddy who is also in the plane.

The machine-gun-fast succession of events or fractions of events becomes from the start such overkill (in all senses) that you can't really keep up with details. The facts are impossible to describe, remember, or to make any sense of. It's an orgy of plot-holes, contradictions and impossibilities. The audience sits there with eyes and brains numbed. By the time the may try to formulate an objection or ask a neighbors "what happened?" a new situation is already on the screen, then another, then another. (Among the myriad question marks is why Buscemi is given such slick aphorisms and why he does not assassinate a little girl).

The movie is as understanding-proof as it is critic-proof, meaning that it will make money even if all the reviews are bad. And bad they should be, except that "Con Air," no matter how insane or guilty of esthetic, moral and cinematic crimes, is not boring. It keep going and it keeps you going.

"Con Air" climaxes with a preposterous destruction of much of Las Vegas as the airplane, piloted by convict "Swamp Thing" plows through the city, then a fire engine, driven by the same man keeps up the mayhem. The immense absurdity is campily comical. It makes you wonder if Swamp Thing should not get a medal.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel