Con-Air is an awesome movie. That shouldn’t be confused as great, nor should that last sentence be considered ironic. I genuinely love Con-Air and the silly action extravaganza it has no problems being. Con-Air lives in a different film world than where we are right now. It was a post Die Hard world. Even though it had its share of action franchises like Lethal Weapon or Die Hard or The Terminator, Hollywood wasn’t obsessed with turning everything into a repeat cash chow.
Back in the 90s, the action movie didn’t have to pull any punches. These days a majority of action flicks are superhero movies, so even if Batman and Superman didn’t have a code of ethics, their still constrained to the limits of what can be done in a PG-13 movie. This wasn’t the case before the likes of X-Men and Spider-man. Movies could be brutal. They could kill cops at just about every turn. They could even say fuck. If there is one movie that embodies this all, it is Con-Air.
These were the guy movies before Tarantino indirectly changed the way we looked at guy movies. Dialogue? Fuck that. Dialogue that didn’t advance the plot was worthless, unless of course, it sounded bad ass in the trailer. Then, it was gold. In fact, go back and watch the trailer for Con-Air and tell me it doesn’t seem like they wrote the trailer first and filled in the movie around it.
These were high concept films that could basically tell the story just by either the poster or the title:
This is all we needed, and with all that meaningless dialogue thrown out the window, you could be assured that you’d be sitting down for a brisk 110 minutes.
This was also the end of an era as much as it was the beginning. Sure, the 80s stars of Schwarzenegger and Stallone still had some great movies in the new decade, but we also started to see a shift to the everyman hero. Leading the way for this movement were guys like Keanu Reeves (Speed), Harrison Ford (The Fugutive), and yes, Nicolas Cage. Hell, they even tried to make Christian Slater into a bankable action star, with Broken Arrow and the astonishingly blandly titled Hard Rain.
Cage’s Cameron Poe may have been an Army Ranger before he was a convicted felon, but the events take place as he’s simply a man on his way home to finally see his daughter. These films fed into the fantasy of anyone could be these guys; if scrawny, Oscar-winning Nic Cage could beef up and be Cameron Poe and save the day, surely Soccer Dads across the country could, too.
To me, what actually sets apart Con-Air from the rest of the like-minded films of the era is the amazing ensemble cast. John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi are just a few of the guys that portray the convicts. Malkovich at the top of his scene-chewing game and he makes Cyrus “The Virus” a pretty memorable villain. Throw in John Cusack essentially playing the Reginald VelJohnson role from Die Hard and Colm Meany stepping in for Paul Gleason and you have a well-rounded 90s action flick roster.
The heart of the film, though, is Cage. With a ridiculous mullet and even more ridiculous Southern accent, Cage is hardly recognizable as the guy that won the Best Actor Oscar just two years prior. Is it bad? You bet, but it’s a badness that is pure Cage; even at his worst, he’s still undeniably likable and engaging. There’s still a joy in watching him work, even if he’s completely off the mark because he’ll always bring something to the table that you cannot help but watch.