Is there a more quintessential 90’s action movie than Con Air? I don’t mean the best, although it’s definitely top tier. Oh sure, Speed is faster, Face/Off is more furious, The Rock is more action packed and True Lies is… longer, I guess. But when it comes to pure NINETIES swagger, Con Air has them all beat.
Discuss? You got it.
Firstly, the first seal of approval is that it came from the oiled and sweaty production line of super producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-overseer of such megahits as Top Gun, Flashdance and Beverley Hills Cop. His movies, flashy, sexy and edited to within an inch of their lives are easy to spot no matter who directs it.
The second is the most painfully nineties cast you’ll ever experience. Not even nineties Tarantino could muster such a nineties cast. Just tallying off the names reads like a who’s who of everyone who was famous while I stumbled awkwardly through my late teens (aging myself, there).
Nic Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames and Steve Buscemi all happily appear in a film that should obviously be so beneath them, it blows the mind as it punches logic square in the balls. How did this happen? How could this come to be? The film was even a directorial debut of Simon West, an unproven talent with a budget that big. So how in God’s did Con Air succeed so goddamn hard.
Well, that brings us to the third and final reason… The script.
Now, usually the script is the first thing to go during the filming of an action movie (check out the behind the scenes horrors of Die Hard 4.0 if you don’t believe me) and yet thanks to the deft pen of one Scott Rosenburg, Con Air’s knowing, witty and somewhat unique tone makes it the muscular quote machine it still is today.
Drawling army ranger Cameron Poe (the first of many, most excellent character monikers) has finally come home to his pregnant wife, but a scuffle with some drunks lands him in prison for 10 years (putting someone’s nose through their brain, even in self defence, is usually frowned upon). After a magnificent credit sequence which seems to be under the delusion that it’s Raising Arizona, we time jump to Cameron’s last day behind bars. Having served his time he’s illogically hopping aboard a prison transfer plane to get home and see his daughter for the first time (is the train too expensive or something?), however he has to share his ride with a bunch of cons heading towards a new supermax facility. Cramming a plane with “the worst of the worst” predictably leads to a breakout and the criminals, lead by the brutally intelligent Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom and black supremacist “Diamond Dog”, make plans for their escape. Poe, ever the ranger, refuses to leave his diabetic buddy or a friendly prison guard behind, so he stays and tries to help, all the while avoiding the glare of suspicious mass murder Billy Bedlam and the upsetting life coaching of serial killer Garland Greene.
The action, as well as being slick, flame-licked and scored with wailing electric guitars, is hugely inventive, gunfights, car chases and a magnificent crash-down on the Las Vegas strip, but it’s the sterling character work and the almost sweet, cartoon-like tone that keeps Con Air such a treat on repeat viewings. You could literally kill yourself with a Memorable Quote Con Air Drinking Game in the first half hour alone and the unbroken stream of wacky secondary characters is just so sublime it hurts. Pinball, Swamp Thing, Baby-O, Sally-Can’t-Dance, Johnny 23… the credits read like a 1980’s wrestling call sheet. And that’s Con Air’s secret weapon, it’s just so fucking likeable. You wanna hang out with it and watch Netflix with it and if you haven’t seen it for a while you wanna catch up with it and see what it’s been up to. Shit, I’d double date with it.
Weird Con Air fetish aside, it’s one of the coolest things to ever come out if the nineties and you feel the lashings of humour carefully laid over it’s action and big heart may have well influenced Marvel Studios output more than a little.
This movie is one bunny you SHOULD keep out of the box.