Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Con Air


Film: Con Air (1997)

Director: Simon West

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich

Written by: Scott Rosenberg


I think Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, and their audiences are the death of cinema’s artistic merit in general and the death of action movies in specific.  But allow me to give Bruckheimer his due for producing this ridiculous masterpiece of explodey fight film.

In addition to having the guts to name itself after a brand of hair dryers, Con Air has the boldness to pretty much recycle the theme of a previous Nic Cage flick, The Rock. In that film, Cage is the straight man sidekick to Sean Connery’s reformed con, both set after the usual gang of ne’er-do-wells.  Con Air sees Cage promoted to the reformed con role and bequeathing his sidekick status to the chronically flustered John Cusack.  Yet there’s an additional bonus in the casting of the film’s villains, a plane full of irredeemable criminals including Dave Chappelle as a cracked-out arsonist, Steve Buscemi as the world’s nicest mass murderer, and thespian John Malkovich giving his take on Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Malkovich is such an awesomely ludicrous contradiction in Con Air. His villain, codenamed Cyrus the Virus, is talked up by being said to have killed more people than cancer, and yet there’s such a nasal condescension to the nasty man that he sometimes comes off as your average Starbucks customer.  Cyrus could have said that he would tear a guy’s face off and wear it as a diaper, and I’d have heard a demand for a triple shot of espresso and non-dairy creamer.

It doesn't help that he does stuff like this.

Just as wonderful is the glowing aura of triumph that wraps around Nicolas Cage in every scene, lingering like a strong deodorant.  His Bastille Day-obsessed hero is so over the top magnificent that one imagines him waving an American flag in one hand while he rains justice down on scum and villainy everywhere with the other.  In this hyperreality, our hero also has a third arm to clutch onto the stuffed bunny that he aims to give to his daughter, whom he is meeting for the first time and who, by God, needs a bunny delivered by the greatest man alive.

Con Air was made long before the advent of the Chuck Norris Fact, but I’d be willing to bet that the creators of that meme took in more than their fair share of Nicolas Cage cinema.  Most action films of the Bruckheimer/Bay School of Shit try a little too hard to be cool.  Con Air gives not the slightest shit about such trivialities.  As such it becomes so ass-kickingly ridiculous that it’s almost surreal.  If any action film has gone to plaid, Con Air is it.

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