Round two of summer blockbuster bonanza at ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ continues with the 1997 Nicolas Cage action pic Con Air. After the success of The Rock, Cage and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were looking to recapture the magic of cinematic explosions with this high-altitude jail break.

The Movie

Cameron Poe, played by Nicolas Cage, is on parole after serving an involuntary manslaughter charge from a bar fight. Spending years in jail, this decorated army ranger is finally going home to his wife Tricia, played by Monica Potter, and gets to meet his daughter Casey. Together with his cellmate Baby-O, played by Mykelti Williamson, the two are flying on ‘Con-Air’ with a host of nefarious monsters.

The plane is filled to the brim with murderers. John Malkovich is Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, and with him in the lead, the convicts played by Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, and Dave Chappelle, take control of the plane. Poe looks for a way to escape the plane with Baby-O but is stopped at every chance. Believing that he mustn’t leave his now ill cell mate behind, Poe stays on the plane of convicts that have repeatedly escaped from the US Marshall Service led by Vince Larkin, played by John Cusack.

Escape to a remote airfield in the desert, Poe cares for his injured friend, and looks out for the safety of guard Sally Bishop, played by Rachel Ticotin. Poe meets up with Larkin, and they hatch a plan to stop Grissom and his thugs. An attempt to retake the plane by authorities led by DEA agent Duncan Malloy, played by Colm Meaney is a failure, leading to a chase in the air.

Pursuing the plane in attack helicopters, Malloy and company force the plane to crash land in Las Vegas. Poe has successfully taken control of the plane, but ‘Con Air’ makes its final stop in the lobby of the Sands Hotel and casino.

When the dust settles, it’s up to Poe and Larkin to pursue Cyrus through the streets of Sin City and stop him from escaping.

The Best

John Malkovich is fantastic as Cyrus Grissom. He is clever, violent, and even his top thugs listen and worry about what Grissom will do. Malkovich’s bald head and goatee give him the look of a deranged nut case that would only attempt a prison escape in midair.

Steve Buscemi as Garland Green is an unexpected delight as a commentator on the events happening on the plane. Green is a mass murderer and the worst of a plane filled with violent monsters. He spends most of the time talking to Poe about what is going on. Thought to be the worst of the worst, Green is calm and placid throughout the whole flight. Even when the plane is about to crash, he starts singing which drives every other prisoner crazy.

The Worst

Con Air to me is a gargantuan misstep when the two redeeming qualities of the film are two villains. While I accept the fact that summer blockbuster popcorn flicks are not meant to wow the audience with the cohesive story, one can tell that this wasn’t a polished work when filming began. Having Cameron Poe serve 7-10 years for an involuntary manslaughter is ridiculous. There is no reason for Poe to serve that much time in prison when he is outnumbered in the fight and was only defending himself and his wife. Poe should have received a lenient sentence like the plea deal was going to do for him and still had him fly home on ‘Con Air’.  

The accent. What on earth was Nicolas Cage trying to do by giving Cameron Poe that accent. It’s not consistent throughout the film, and just makes Poe seem like a cheap imitation of Forrest Gump. Cage bringing in a southern drawl was pointless. It was a distraction from the story and not needed.

The hair. What prompted the idea that Cage should have his hair grown out to play the released Cameron Poe. At first it wasn’t a distraction but as the explosions started racking up, seeing Cage’s hair blowing in the wind looked ridiculous. If Cameron Poe is supposed to be an All-American Army Ranger who never leaves a man behind, then why would he choose to grow his hair out. The look is silly and should have been cut (pun intended) from the film.  

John Cusack was not given much to work with when he was handed the script for the film. His federal marshal Vince Larkin is pathetic. From wearing sandals to the job, to just the dialogue, everything about this character needs a rewrite. Cusack never goes beyond the boundaries of reality with his character, which is a plus to the actor’s ability, but he didn’t get much to work with. I would find it hard to believe that Vince Larkin would keep his job in the fallout of the events in this movie.

Film Facts

  • Apparently, John Cusack does not like to discuss his role in the film.
  • The movie is dedicated to Phil Schwartz, an effects specialist who was killed on set when a plane rolled over on him and killed him.
  • Dave Chappelle talked about how he improvised most of his lines when discussing the film on Inside the Actors Studio in 2006.
  • The movie was nominated for two Oscars, Best Original Song and Best Sound. It lost both categories to Titanic.
  • This was director Simon West’s first film.
  • The crash scene was filmed at the famed Las Vegas hotel and casino The Sands. The city was going to raze the building for redevelopment, and the film crew shot the crash scene prior to the demolition of the building.
  • The Oscar nominated song “How Do I Live” was originally performed by LeAnn Rimes. Her rendition was scrubbed and replaced with Trisha Yearwood’s version which would go on to earn the Oscar nomination.
  • The film supposedly takes place on July 14. This coincides with another historical prison break, the storming of the Bastille in Paris, France on July 14, 1789 which started the French Revolution.
  • Models were used to film the scene of the plane hitting the giant neon guitar at the Hard Rock Hotel.
  • Simon West also directed the music video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
  • The song “How Do I Live” was also nominated for a Razzie for the Worst Original Song. It didn’t win.
  • This was the first film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer following the untimely death of his partner Don Simpson in 1996.

See It/Skip It?

Skip It! Coming off the success of The Rock, I had high hopes when Con Air came out in 1997. I was disappointed and moved on to a much better Nicolas Cage movie that came out two weeks later, Face-Off. Viewing Con Air again, I am reminded by all the negative feelings I have for the film and discovering new reasons for why I dislike this movie. I appreciate the action-packed roller coaster ride that the film tries to be, but I have a hard time connecting with the protagonist and just don’t care what happens. When one of the only likeable characters in the film is Steve Buscemi’s, I think the film missed the mark.

Next week on ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ we dive into a planet killer of a movie, 1998’s asteroid of doom film, Armageddon.

Director: Simon West

Production Company: Touchstone Pictures/ Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Principal Cast:

  • Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe
  • John Cusack as Vince Larkin
  • John Malkovich as Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom
  • Ving Rhames as Nathan ‘Diamond Dog’ Jones
  • Mykelti Williamson as Baby-O
  • Steve Bucsemi as Garland Green
  • Dave Chapelle as Pinball
  • Danny Trejo as Johnny-23
  • Monica Potter as Tricia Poe
  • Colm Meaney as Duncan Malloy

Release Date: June 6, 1997

Budget: $75 million

Box Office Gross Domestic = $101,117,573

                      Worldwide = $224,012,234