Today, I’m going to take a look at the notorious Nicolas Cage action flick, Con Air.
The plot of Con Air is summarized on IMDb as follows:
Newly paroled ex-con and former U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe finds himself trapped in a prisoner transport plane when the passengers seize control.
The director for the film was rookie helmer Simon West, who has gone on to direct movies like Stolen, When A Stranger Calls, The Mechanic, The Expendables 2, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. However, perhaps his best known credit is directing the infamous 1987 music video for Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The huge cast of character actors that makes up Con Air includes the likes of Nicolas Cage (Vampire’s Kiss, The Wicker Man, Left Behind, Leaving Las Vegas, Ghost Rider, Snake Eyes, Bringing Out The Dead, Adaptation.), John Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, 1408, The Raven, Being John Malkovich, 2012, War, Inc.), John Malkovich (Rounders, Eragon, Burn After Reading), Ving Rhaimes (Pulp Fiction, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, Mission: Impossible III), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Armageddon), Colm Meaney (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hell On Wheels), Danny Trejo (Machete, Machete Kills, Anaconda, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado), and Dave Chappelle (Half-Baked, Chappelle’s Show).
The cinematographer for Con Air was David Tattersall, who also shot such films as The Green Mile, Speed Racer, Next, Die Another Day, Theodore Rex, Soldier, and The Majestic, among others.
Con Air ultimately had three credited editors: Glen Scantlebury (Stolen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Twixt, Armageddon), Steve Mirkovich (Hardcore Henry, 16 Blocks, Broken Arrow, Big Trouble In Little China, Prince of Darkness, Cool World, The Astronaut’s Wife), and Chris Lebenzon (Eragon, Big Fish, Enemy of the State, Mars Attacks, Ed Wood, Hudson Hawk, Wolfen, Top Gun, Days of Thunder).
The musical score for Con Air is credited to both Mark Mancina (Moana, Shooter, Training Day, Twister, Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control) and Trevor Rabin (12 Rounds, Snakes On A Plane, Torque, National Treasure, Kangaroo Jack, Deep Blue Sea). Apparently, due to his commitment to Speed 2: Cruise Control, Mancina didn’t have time to complete his work on Con Air, and Rabin filled in to complete the project.
Con Air was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, one of the most prolific and popular film and television producers of the past few decades. His television shows include CSI, CSI: Miami, Cold Case, CSI: NY, and The Amazing Race, and just a handful of his film credits are The Rock, National Treasure, Armageddon, Pirates of the Caribbean. Top Gun, Bad Boys, and Days of Thunder.
In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, John Cusack justified his decision to take part in Con Air, despite not actually liking the movie:
I use those kinds of films to get leverage…you wouldn’t think Con Air had anything to do with Max, but in my career it does. It’s doing Con Air, or doing romantic comedies, that makes Max possible. The bad stuff you just try to make as good as you can.
In an appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio, comedian Dave Chappelle claimed that he improvised nearly all of the dialogue for his minor part in Con Air.
In the credits, Con Air is dedicated to Phil Swartz. Swartz was an effects worker for the production who was killed in an on-set accident, in which a plane fell off of its rigging.
The song “How Do I Live,” which is featured prominently in Con Air, had the rare claim of being nominated for both Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Worst Original Song at the Razzie Awards. However, it wound up winning neither distinction.
Con Air was made on a production budget of $75 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of just over $224 million, making it significantly profitable. Critically, though, it was a bit of a mixed bag: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 54% from critics and 75% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user score of 6.8.
One of Con Air‘s prominent advocates was Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3/4 stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times:
The movie is essentially a series of quick setups, brisk dialogue and elaborate action sequences…it moves smoothly and with visual style and verbal wit.
In this case, I’m not sure if I completely agree with Ebert’s opinion, particularly on the point of the “quick setups” and action sequences. I think that Con Air is one of the key action movies that is most guilty of action over-saturation. Essentially, there are so many set ups, explosions, and grandiose moments, that ultimately each of their impacts is diluted. If a movie is nothing but explosions and gunfire, then those moments will be less notable that a single dramatic explosion in a different film. At the same time, it can be said that the constant flashes can keep an audiences attention. However, I tend to think of Con Air as more like a strobe light: after a few minutes, the effect has worn off, and the moments that should be thrilling just feel normalized and repetitive.
As far as positives go, it is hard to get better than the rogue’s gallery of character actors that populate the eponymous plane. Led by John Malkovich, the whole cast of villains is eccentric, colorful, volatile, and beyond over-the-top. Between the lot of them, there is more scenery-chewing than we might ever see on screen again. On the flip side, however, is Nicolas Cage: perhaps the king of the cinematic freak-out. Unfortunately, however, his character here is polite to the point of near stoicism, and even when unleashed, never quite goes wide-eyed in Cage-y fury. If anything, he is the closest thing to a stable presence in the film, which doesn’t suit him in the slightest. Luckily, he does use an absolutely outrageous interpretation of an Alabama accent, which has cemented this as one of his worst performances regardless.
Thanks to its frequent appearances on cable, I assume that most people have caught Con Air before, or know of its reputation. I don’t have to mention that this is a big, silly action movie with the depth of a kiddie pool. I will say that it is anything but tasteful, and hasn’t aged terribly well in a multitude of ways. Most surprisingly, though, is that I found it to be not quite as exciting as I remembered on this particular re-watch. It is still a pretty fun ride as far as blockbuster fare goes, particularly in today’s market. However, I think this might be the rare movie that I think is better to experience in clips and highlights, or left relegated to fond memories.