Film Scouts Reviews

"Con Air"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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It's another critic-proof summer movie! You may not recognize Jerry Bruckheimer's name, but he is one half of the talented producing duo which brought us "Flashdance", "Beverly Hills Cop", "Top Gun", "Crimson Tide", and "The Rock", so you know he can make a crowd-pleaser of a movie. With "Con Air", Bruckheimer proves he can do it without his other half, the late Don Simpson. He is wise enough to have cast Nic Cage against type as an action hero in "The Rock" and to sign him to "Con Air" before anyone knew the Alcatraz tale would gross $355 million world wide and set video rental records. Now, the amazing thing is that he has the knack for finding people like director Simon West, who is best known for Sprint, MCI, Ford, and Budweiser commercials, and teaming him with Scott Rosenberg, who penned the dreadful "Things to do in Denver When You're Dead", and coming out with the quintessential summer movie.

"Con Air" is an actual airline for the transportation of criminals throughout the country. But today's passengers include the worst, most vile of the lot: John Malkovich as Cyrus "The Virus", Steve Buscemi as serial killer Garland Greene, Ving Rhames as author, activist, and murderer Diamond Dog. (Don't you just love the names!) Even the supporting convicts got cool names like Billy Bedlam and Swamp Thing and my favorite, Sally Can't Dance. And for the sake of verisimilitude, we have one real life-con-turned actor, Danny Trejo as Johnny 23, convicted of twenty-three rapes. So when parolee Cameron Poe gets on board, we know he doesn't fit in with these wretches because neither does his name. Nic Cage is a good guy who defends his wife and ends up doing eight years in the pen. This is his chance at redemption. Cage is also one of the quirkiest, most talented, coolest actors around. Another one of the quirkiest (see "Grosse Point Blank"), most talented (see "Bullets Over Broadway), and coolest (see "The Grifters") actors around is John Cusack who is the U.S. Marshall trying to recapture the plane after the convicts craftily take charge. Now if this were just a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, you'd get plenty of explosions, action and excitement. But working with this kind of talent (when was the last time you saw John Malkovich in an action movie?) you get a deeper subtext amidst the explosions. Bruckheimer confirms, "It was his (Nic Cage's) concept to make Poe a decorated Army Ranger, which adds tremendously to the power of his character and the empathy you feel for him." Now I'm not going to say that this is a 'character piece' but I do agree when Cusack says, "It's smarter, has more dark irony and a sense of the absurd that makes it unique and unexpected." As Cusack's nemesis, Colm Meaney sheds his Star Fleet uniform and his usually sweet demeanor to take on the role of D.E.A. jerk. Even this relationship adds to the depth of what could have been one long chase scene punctuated by explosions.

I don't mean to imply that this is in any way a family movie. Rated R, "Con Air" has a certain roughness and at times, meanness to it. But this is a movie about lifers, hardened criminals, so you figure it goes with the territory.

For those anxious to see what else Bruckheimer will pull out of his sleeve, "Armageddon" with Bruce Willis looms in pre-production, along with "Enemy of the State" with Will Smith. Richard Marchinko's "Rogue Warrior", a Navy S.E.A.L. story, is in development, along with "Witness to the Truth", an FBI true account. This is one creative and busy guy. And one big summer hit.

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