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Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition DVD Review

Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition

May 24, 2006

Director: Simon West,
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin, Danny Trejo, Monica Potter, Dave Chappelle, M.C. Gainey,

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DVD Review

By all rights Con Air (1997) should have been an awful waste of time, just another tired Jerry Bruckheimer testosterone action film whose final resting fate should be wedged between beer and pick-up truck ads on television Instead; the film brilliantly sends up and celebrates every action cliché in the book.

U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe (Cage) is due to be paroled after killing a drunk who threatened him and his wife (Julia Roberts wannabe Potter). We are subjected to the typical passage of time montage documenting Poe’s stint in prison only West and the screenplay by Scott Rosenberg slyly reference Cage in Raising Arizona (1987) and the prison riot scenes in Natural Born Killers (1994). No, really. Of course, his trip home isn’t going to be that easy as his history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time continues when the plane Poe is on just happens to be transporting the worst criminal scum on the planet. Chief among them, Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (Malkovich) and a whole slew of mass murderers, a serial rapist (Trejo), a Black Panther-esque militant (Rhames) and a Hannibal Lector rip-off (Buscemi).

Naturally, the convicts get free of their restraints and take control of the plane. To make matters worse, Poe’s buddy (Williamson) goes into insulin shock. On the ground, U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (Cusack) and DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Meaney) get into a heated debate about how exactly to deal with the runaway plane – Larkin wants to take it down through peaceful means while Malloy wants to shoot it out of the sky.

Clearly riffing on his psychotic assassin from In the Line of Fire (1993), John Malkovich gets the lion’s share of the film’s best dialogue and delivers it with his trademark scathing dry wit. He really seems to be having fun with this role. And then along comes Steve Buscemi as a criminal with a revered and feared reputation and yet we never actually see him do anything to support these claims. He and Malkovich get locked into a competition to see who can deliver the best one liner with the driest of deliveries.

You have to hand it to Nicolas Cage, he certainly knows how to pick action films that are just ever so slightly left of centre with The Rock (1996) where he played an anti-action hero, Face/Off (1997), a stylish John Woo role reversal film and then Con Air. He wisely plays his role as if being in a straight-forward action film which is in sharp contrast to many of the larger than life characters around him.

For a big, loud action film the dialogue is quite clever and, more importantly, delivered well by the cast – which, incidentally, is an incredible collection of movie stars and character actors. It is so jam-packed with talented thespians that you wonder how the hell did the powers that be get them all to be in this movie? The film looks and sounds like a Bruckheimer action film but it is Rosenberg’s screenplay that is the wild card, here. It sets up the standard, implausible action film premise and introduces the genre archetypes (i.e. the lone wolf protagonist with his pretty, loving wife and the criminal mastermind, etc.) and starts messing around with the formula.

Con Air works because the filmmakers take a simple set-up and expertly execute it. The film still plugs in the usual, over-the-top set pieces. For example, a sports car is towed behind a cargo plane only to crash through a control tower and explodes. Our hero’s best buddy even gets to utter a stirring soliloquy as he lies gravely injured. True to form, the ending is highly implausible and excessive even by Bruckheimer standards but you have to admire the filmmakers with going for it. Ultimately, what redeems Con Air is its well-placed sense of irony that, sadly, is gone when the film’s sappy ending rears its ugly head, even if it tries to evoke the ending of Wild at Heart (1990). No, really.

Special Features:

Nothing. Not even a trailer. What a wasted opportunity for a commentary by West or a retrospective featurette.

This extended version features additional dialogue between Larkin a female law enforcement officer in a hanger, footage of a prison riot during the opening credits montage and a few more graphic shots of hapless inmates being killed during the course of the movie.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 69%

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