Con Air (1997)

June 5, 1997

Con Air definitely plops into that vortex known as the big budget action genre. It’s a lumbering, perplexing mess of a movie, without basis in any sort of logic and a narrative that could be summed up as lacking. Summers are filled with these kinds of films; mindless little diversions that usually stink up the place with a cheesy odor, but some, like Die Hard or Aliens, manage to be highly entertaining pieces of fluff. Unfortunately, Con Air may have all the prerequisites for a place in the trashy hall of fame, but falls short of being worthy and instead tumbles in another, more irritating place.

It’s hard to point fingers with a film such as this, where the script, by Scott Rosenberg (whose twisted mind produced Beautiful Girls) is trite and flabby, and the music and direction conspire jointly to conjure up memories of banal TV commercials. It comes as no great surprise that neophyte director Simon West spent more time pre-Con Air overseeing Budwiser ads than actual movies. Every frame is informed with TV’s familiar, kinetic spasm, as if the camera was a shark, and would die if it stopped moving.

Still, if there was anyone to blame, chances are producer Jerry Bruckheimer would get the finger - pointed at him, at any rate. Bruckheimer, who with the late Don Simpson was responsible for such foul-smelling nuggets as Days of Thunder and Bad Boys, seems to be the real creative force behind Con Air. His films are all aesthetically similar - big volume, thunderous explosions, and no soul - and it’s no surprise that his directors cannot be found anywhere in his films. It’s like his films are so big, they swallow up puny directors whole, and regurgitate them as pawns who just fling the camera around.

The casting is where Con Air gets interesting. Nicholas Cage (along with Bruce Willis) seems dead set on becoming the savior of the Hollywood action genre - his appearance in last year’s The Rock, and the forthcoming John Woo film Face/Off is a curious anomaly in the great scheme of action stars. With the dwindling box office take of hugely muscled lunkheads (like Van Damme, or Arnold), Tinseltown producers probably were in a panic as to who would be The Next Guy, and figured Cage would be as good a bet as any. Here, he’s just another puffy boy (“With 3% body fat!”, the press kit proclaims), but at least Cage is a somewhat capable actor with a fair bit of charisma.

In fact, the charisma of the cast (which includes such notables as John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi , Ving Rhames, and an unlikely John Cusack) is what saves Con Air from sinking without a trace. No matter how lame the movie may get, it’s still entertaining to see some classy working stiffs like these try to make the best of a poor situation.

Regardless of any acting talent present, Con Air proves incapable of being anything more than a two hour sustained, visual assault. It leaves you reeling and exhausted by the sheer force of its imagery - something that Jerry Bruckheimer would probably be delighted to hear. In this case, though, the exhaustion feels numbing, like you’ve just spent too much time in front of the TV watching a cavalcade of beer ads. With the full might of the Hollywood promotional machine behind it, you can’t turn off Con Air - and that’s a shame.


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