“Put the bunny back in the box”. Nicholas Cage began the 90s as an Academy Award-winning actor, but ended the decade as a long-haired, greasy beefcake getting a little too sensitive about a stuffed animal toy in 1997’s Con Air. Cage plays the comically named Cameron Poe, a former army ranger who ends up serving a sentence for manslaughter after a drunken bar hick tries to assault his pregnant wife. A Southern softie till the end, Poe spends his 8 year jail sentence mastering the art of origami and turning himself into a shaggy-looking Gandhi of martial arts with better hair than Jesus. Having refused to see his wife and daughter in the midst of a federal penitentiary, Poe is released on parole for good behaviour, and conveniently assigned a flight-home on the ‘jailbird’ – a prison plane transporting America’s most dangerous criminals for re-housing. Supervised by U.S Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack in awful sandals), this is set to be quite the flight, and so Con Air begins its pantomime of prison posturing.
The genius John Malkovich is deliciously evil and campy as ‘Cyrus the Virus’, a long-serving con with a university Doctorate who claims to have ‘killed more people than cancer’. Our collection of merry oddballs also includes a weirder-than-usual Steve Buscemi as a soft-spoken, pasty white serial killer welcomed onboard in a Hannibal-Lecter style mask. Shortly after take-off, Cyrus instantaneously overthrows the guards. Looks like you might not make it home Poe. ‘Welcome to Con Air’.
I should loathe and detest Jerry Bruckheimer for ever conceiving of Pearl Harbour, Coyote Ugly and the masquerade of heterosexuality that is the impossibly camp Top Gun. But Con Air straddles that delicate and not-often achieved action-movie line between brilliant and burlesque. Not only is Cameron Poe the ultimate bullet dodging badass (he is literally un-moved by a bullet to the arm in slo-mo), he also has a beautiful little blonde family waiting to meet ‘daddy’ to a handkerchief-ready Diane Warren soundtrack. Cusack, Malkovich and Buscemi are also three of the industry’s most under-rated actors, fearlessly able to plunge themselves into Con Air‘s idiocy and emerge unscathed in a genius turn of action-movie pastiche.
Con Air is boisterous, brash and brainless. There are enough explosions (walked away from by Cage) to sustain a studio pyrotechnics department for years. It even has the audacity to utter a line as blatantly clichéd as ‘What do you think I’m gonna do? I’m gonna save the f**kin’ day!’ But what can I say, I’m a sucker for a guy who loves his wife, buys his daughter a stuffed bunny, kicks ass and subsequently saves the world. Book me on the next flight Bruckheimer.