Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Film Review: CON AIR (1997, Simon West)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 123 minutes (director's cut).
Notable Cast or Crew:  Nicolas Cage (WILD AT HEART, VALLEY GIRL), John Malkovich (EMPIRE OF THE SUN, DANGEROUS LIAISONS), John Cusack (BETTER OFF DEAD, ONE CRAZY SUMMER), Steve Buscemi (KING OF NEW YORK, MILLER'S CROSSING), Ving Rhames (PATTY HEARST, JACOB'S LADDER), Dave Chapelle (BUDDIES, 200 CIGARETTES), Rachel Ticotin (TOTAL RECALL, FALLING DOWN), Danny Trejo (KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, DEATH WISH IV: THE CRACKDOWN), M.C. Gainey (LOST, FATAL BEAUTY), Doug Hutchison (LOST, THE X-FILES), Fredric Lehne (LOST, DALLAS), Colm Meaney (UNDER SIEGE, DICK TRACY), Mykelti Williamson (HEAT, FREE WILLY, FORREST GUMP), and a possible vocal cameo by Powers Boothe (SOUTHERN COMFORT, TOMBSTONE).  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (THE ROCK, TOP GUN).
Tag-line: "Welcome to Con Air.  They were deadly on the ground.  Now they have wings."
Best one-liner:   "Cy..."  –"Onara!"  [man is burned alive]

Alright, ladies and germs.  We all know CON AIR already, and we all know that it's glorious.  Certain elements have been discussed to death, and I'm sure I could zero in on Cage's mullet, his distressingly bad Southern accent, or his doing origami for the love of a daughter he's never met:

or Steve Buscemi being zanily creepy and singing "He's Got the Whole World (In His Hands)":

 or the enormity of all the hare-raising-stuffed-bunny-related setpieces.

But in such cases where a film– notorious for its singular, over-the-top flavor– has been often discussed elsewhere (á la, say, a BLOODSPORT or a COMMANDO), it would likely behoove me to discuss the elements that you don't think about every day when you reach that point in the afternoon that you reserve for thinking about CON AIR.  Therefore, I am proud to present my ten newest and most absurd observations– nay, revelations– that materialized upon my latest viewing of CON AIR.

#1.  Danny Trejo's intention to fuck your whole family.

Playing the rapist "Johnny-23" ("one heart for each of my 23 bitches"), Trejo's had a lot of experience playing convicts– both in real life and in the movies THE HIDDEN, RUNAWAY TRAIN, PENITENTIARY III, LOCK UP, MANIAC COP 2, WEDLOCK, JAKE AND THE FATMAN, LAST LIGHT, AGAINST THE WALL, ANIMAL FACTORY, and a bunch of others.  In fact, after recently seeing him in Cannon Films' KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, I now am actually afraid that Danny Trejo is going to fuck my whole family. 

Anyway, my point is that I guess it isn't really an action movie unless Danny Trejo is in it, portraying some kind of imprisoned ne'er-do-well. 

#2.  It's not technically an action movie till you blow up a gas station.
I've held this theory for a while, but I'm just impressed that CON AIR, a movie whose logline would lead you to believe that it must take place entirely in a prison and on an airplane, manages to do so by about the halfway point.

#3.  It's not an action movie till there's a vanity license plate.  
One day I'm going to do a feature on vanity license plates in horror and action movies of the 80s and 90s, but until that day, we'll just have to take 'em one at a time.  It's no AWESOM50 from COBRA, but AZZ KIKR firmly receives the Junta Juleil seal of approval.  Here, it doesn't actually belong to John Cusack, it belongs to his hateful boss Colm Meaney, who's playing an aggregate of every bureaucratic authority figure from all of the DIE HARD films combined.

#4.  John Cusack's bizarre cultural references.
Speaking of DIE HARD, Cusack's function here is basically to be the Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow) role from DIE HARD– a.k.a. the only man on the ground who fights the FBI/DEA bureaucracy and believes in his anonymous action-buddy helper who's trapped in the building/airplane fighting thieves/hijackers, and then, ultimately, proves himself as he saves Willis/Cage from that pesky Godunov/Malkovich who you thought might be dead already but then of course he wasn't.  Whew.  Anyway, I guess my original point was to say that it's an odd choice to have the Cusack character quoting Dostoyevsky and enthusing about the PLANET OF THE APES Pentology, but it's a choice that I appreciate.

#5.  Q:  Are Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman CON AIR fans?

A:  Difficult to say, but all of the main characters from Kaufman's first two screenplays to be directed by Spike Jonze (Cusack & Malkovich and Cage & Cage in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION, respectively) come from the top billing of CON AIR.  Makes ya wonder.

#6.  I never thought in a million years that I would ever see Dave Chappelle's corpse plummet to Earth
and land atop the hood of Don S. Davis' car in a bit intended to be comic relief. 

Also, it's never explicity made clear whether or not Don S. Davis is still portraying his character from TWIN PEAKS, Major Briggs, so for the sake of argument, I'm just going to assume that he is.

#7.  There's an extremely bizarre connection to TV's LOST.  Okay, they're not just both about airplanes that happen to crash.  It goes deeper.  In CON AIR, only two characters actually fly the eponymous airplane: the original, pre-hijacking pilot; and the prisoner who takes the controls post-hijacking.  The original pilot is none other than Fredric Lehne, who on LOST plays the Marshal Edward Mars, the only true authority figure on the plane.
After the convicts– or CON AIR's 'Others,' if you will– take over, M.C. Gainey mans the controls.

Fans of LOST will recall him as the memorable, mysterious character Mr. Friendly who is the initial face of the "Others" and one of the primary antagonists throughout several episodes.  Pret-ty strange, I say.  [Also, Doug Hutchison ("Horace Goodspeed" on LOST) has a bit part here, too. ]

#8.  The look in Nic Cage's eyes after he reveals his intention to prove that God exists.  You see, at one point, it doesn't look like Cage's prison buddy (Mykelti Williamson– Bubba from FORREST GUMP) is gonna make it.  He's been shot, maimed, and needs insulin. 

And all he can think about is, like, there ain't no God.

Cage says, "I'm gonna show you God does exist," and then commences to kick some ass and cause a crash landing and a number of slow motion explosions.  But before he commences with the requisite Bruckheimerian antics, he does this with his face:

Maybe Cage attempting to will God into existence, or it's Bruckheimer's kind of deus ex machina, with Nic Cage as literally a god in the machine.  Or maybe it's something else entirely.  Who can say?  Regardless, I applaud it with the same slow-clap used by faux-Gorbachev in ROCKY IV.

#9.  Strange surface similarities to David Lynch's WILD AT HEART.  For those, not in the know, that's another movie with frequent slow motion flames where Nicolas Cage has an ambiguously terrible Southern accent and serves a prison sentence while a blonde waits patiently for him and upon his release introduces him to his own beloved child that he's never met in the flesh before.   

#10.  The idea that this film was born as the filmmakers absentmindedly daydreamed while watching THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and decided that wouldn't this be a lot better as an action movie?  Think about it.  Combine Steve Buscemi's gnawin' mask and Malkovich's intellectual psychopath and you've basically got an American Hannibal Lecter.  "Hannibal the Cannibal."

  That's perfect!  Wait-  they couldn't call him that, though– copyright issues!  Damn!  How 'bout "Cyrus the Virus?"

Then– they co-star Colm Meaney as the "annoying, undermining-the-whole-operation-through-his-own-dickery bureaucrat" character.

He functions and looks like the Irish version of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' American counterpart, Anthony Heald!

However, all of this simply proves that I have too much time/character actor knowledge on my hands.  Ah, well.

Four and a half stars.

-Sean Gill


Jack Thursby said...

#6. I can't help but feel the movie would have been a full 5/5 if it had been Don S Davis that landed on top of Dave Chapelle's car.

Sean Gill said...

That is a damn fine point that you make there, Mr. Thursby!

J.D. said...

And let's not forget the nice nod to the opening montage on RAISING ARIZONA with Cage's eerily similar stint in prison

Sean Gill said...


A fine point, and one which had slipped my mind!