Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Retro Review: Con Air

 So tomorrow is the fifteenth anniversary of Con Air entering our lives. I assume that everybody felt the impact of Con Air the same way I did, but if you've forgotten the film (we can't all be 30 years old this year, Blade Runner), let's take a look back down memory lane...

 Con Air was a spin-off of the Jerry Bruckheimer / Michael Bay team up in the 90s that started with Bad Boys in 1995, kicked things up a notch with The Rock in 1996, and then reached its maximum peak with Armageddon, a movie that I'm not especially fond of. Con Air is tied more to the Bruckheimer side of things, as he would also produce Enemy of the State in 1998 before striking gold five years later with Disney and Pirates of the Caribbean. Wait.. where was I? Oh right, before getting tangled up with the people Jerry Bruckheimer was producing with at the Mouse, I was trying to make the point that there was a run of stylized action movies known for excessive "hero" shots, cartoonish plots, big explosions, and lots of actors you wouldn't expect to see yelling at each other. Oh, and the big soundtrack tie-in song: for Con Air, it was "How Do I Live" performed by Trisha Yearwood (after a version by Leeann Rimes was replaced).

 After being reborn as an "action" star in The Rock, Nicolas Cage plays Cameron Poe in Con Air, an Army Ranger coming home to see his wife Tricia (Monica Potter), who is pregnant with his baby. While celebrating his return at a local bar, Poe runs afoul of some one dimensional assholes who decide to assault him outside in the parking lot, and he doesn't really fight back until one of them pulls a knife, and in an act of self defense he kills the guy. Mind you, self defense. Nevertheless, his lawyer recommends he pleads guilty, the judge rejects that because Poe's skills make him a "deadly weapon" who is not subject to normal laws. Because Poe can respond with "lethal force," he is given a 7-10 year prison sentence instead of a reduced judgement. So yeah, it's important to understand this is the logic that sets up Con Air.

 Because it's only going to get crazier, when Poe gets out of prison he ends up flying back home on a plane with the worst of the worst, two of which - mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) and Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) - have planned an execute a jailbreak in mid-flight. They release the other prisoners and hold the guards hostage. Now in order to get home, Poe not only has to stop Cyrus and Diamond Dog, but also needs to find insulin for his cellmate Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson) in order to save his life.

 I'm not going to pretend that Con Air is a "good" movie by most conventional definitions. It includes an exaggerated version of Cage's H.I. McDunnough southern accent, what I sincerely hope was a wig, and includes a number of great (read: ridiculous) lines, few as memorable as "Why couldn't you just put the bunny back in the box?" But it isn't just Cage being Cage or Malkovich and Rhames chewing scenery that makes Con Air memorable. There's also the rest of the cast, an impressively loaded lineup in retrospect.

 So in addition to Sailor Ripley, Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont, Bubba Gump, and Marcellus Wallace, Con Air also features Danny Trejo (Machete), M.C. Gainey (Lost), Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Dave Chappelle (Half Baked), Nick Chindlund (The Chronicles of Riddick), Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall), and Steve Buscemi (Fargo) as Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene, a Hannibal Lecter-esque serial killer that even Cyrus and Diamond Dog are nervous around. Oh, and John Cusack. How could I forget John Cusack, who plays U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, the only person on the ground trying to help Poe bring down the plane safely, even as Meaney's Duncan Malloy is busting his balls and driving a car with a license plate that says this:

  Well, it is a very silly, bombastic action movie that they don't really make any more. In fact, I can't think of a modern action film to compare Con Air to, because it's more coherent than a Transformers movie and takes itself more seriously than something like Drive Angry, yet not as seriously as a Bourne movie, for example. It's not tongue in cheek, but things are so over the top at times that you have to sit back and laugh at the absurdity. There's a long setup involving whether or not Garland Greene is going to kill again, so during a brief period when the plane is landed, he ends up sitting down with a little girl. We all dread what should happen, but as the plane is flying off (to "Sweet Home Alabama" if I remember correctly), the little girl waves at the plane from the ground. Awww.

 Con Air was directed by Simon West, who went on to make Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The General's Daughter, and the remake of When a Stranger Calls. More recently, he made that kind-of remake of The Mechanic with Jason Statham that still gets the Blogorium traffic because nobody knows what the bodyguard's "World Championship" ring is for. In fact, I bet it's on the right side of the page right now under the frequently visited links. While I didn't care for Tomb Raider and didn't see the other two, I liked The Mechanic all right and enjoyed Con Air. Hell, I still enjoy Con Air, even if it is stupid as all get out. Hopefully he brings some of that absurdity to The Expendables 2 later this summer.

 One final sidenote: when I went to see Con Air in the theatre, I was 18 but the friend I went to see it with wasn't. I don't know if other states do this, but the one I live in takes the "under 17" part of the R rating to mean "including 17" so you can only see R-rated movies if you're 18 or accompanied by an adult. I don't remember how he got in - maybe he lied about forgetting his ID - but we did manage to see it.

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