Con Air (1997) is one of those absurd action films you can’t help but admire. Its audacity to be this ridiculous is highly impressive.
Starring Nic Cage and John Malkovich, the former makes a return to Las Vegas in the type of romp that’ll shiver your timbers. Buckle up, yo!
Con Air is Absurdity Done Excellent
Directed by Simon West, Con Air is a kind of action, crime, thriller, weirdo movie merged together with an epic Nic Cage hairdo.
Bearing in mind Cage had just won an Oscar for his astonishing performance in Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Con Air was something… a tad different.
He strapped his action pants on and embraced a big pay check, basically, being the main attraction in a pretty star studded ensemble cast.
And what a plot it is! Con Air is the stuff of absurdist legend.
Combat veteran Cameron Poe (Cage) returns home to his wife Tricia, but after defending her in a barroom brawl he’s handed 10 years in jail for manslaughter.
He heads off to prison and his daughter is born. They start up a penpal relationship whilst Poe ticks off the days.
Eventually, he’s done his time and is all set for release. Huzzah!
But wouldn’t you know it!? This unlucky SOB is set for the worst part of it all.
He boards a Fairchild C-123 Provider flight called the Jailbird, a prison plane that just so happens to also be transporting a big bunch of lunatics, maniacs, psychopaths, hooligans, and the like.
One of them is Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson), who is Poe’s mate.
However, the others include Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich on great fun form), a genius lunatic bloke who’s also bald.
As Poe waits to get home for some precious freedom, he’s disturbed to find the prisoners overthrow the plane. Bummer, man.
What follows is the prisoners have to complete various stop off points to pretend everything is A-okay.
All with the plan to get to Lerner Airfield, catch up with the Mexican cartel, and begin a new life and that type of thing.
At one stop off, Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) joins the crew. Just because Steve Buscemi, being cool, was in pretty much every movie around 1997.
As you might expect, plans generally go awry. That’s largely due to Poe, who puts on a double act.
He pretends to be helping the prisoners, but is secretly in touch with Vince Larkin (John Cusack) back on the ground to try and stop the lunacy.
And my word, the lunacy! Everything leads to a crash landing on the Las Vegas strip. Kind of ironic for Nic Cage then, since he’d only just left there back in 1995.
Yes, Con Air isn’t a film you go into to take seriously. It’s far too moronic for that.
But there’s a certain enjoyment in its attempts to ramp up the ridiculous to the extreme. Kind of like Face/Off, also with Nic Cage the same year.
He’d starred in The Rock in 1996 and that taste of mega-buck Hollywood blockbuster dollars seemed to set him off on a frenzy.
Whilst it worked wonders for his bank balance, it’s a real shame for viewers. As for some time it kept him away from the roles that stood him out as the best character actor in the world.
And yet… he’s also great fun in Con Air. Sure, his hair is weird. It’s like he’s half-stoned for the whole thing, too. And his facial expression for 10 years in jail is like it’s a 30 minute bus delay. Stoic acceptance.
Cage has since shown in Pig (2021) he’s still happy to take challenging roles, but you can still enjoy this type of romp, too.
Elsewhere, John Malkovich is brilliant fun for the film and a baddie you can root for. He’s clearly having a lot of fun with the role and that makes for a loveably psychotic antagonist.
And that’s what works for Con Air. Malkovich and Cage. A great combo, great special effects, the utmost in stupidity, and that kind of thing.
A very ’90s high concept romp. Its stupidity is off the scales. But if you don’t mind that kind of thing, then here’s a whole lot of fun.
Con Air’s Production
Con Air was a big hit in 1997. Off its $75 million budget it raked in $224 million worldwide.
It’s also a surprisingly long film at almost two hours! The time sure zips by when you’re having fun, eh?
Principal photography began on 1st July 1996 and wrapped on 29th October, with many locations used across Salt Lake City in Utah.
Bearing in mind recent events with an on-set death, Con Air is another example of how hardworking employees in the industry are often at risk.
Welder Phillip Swartz was crushed when a static airplane model fell on him. The film is dedicated to his memory.
Around the same time, Twister was filmed and suffered all sorts of similar on-set injuries. Including to the two stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.
So, yes, it’s a tough business and it’s clear to see not much has changed over the years. Often staff are working incredibly long days and struggling with fatigue.
Despite the efforts with Con Air by cast and crew, the film wasn’t particularly well received by critics.
However, film buffs loved the experience and flocked to it in droves.
Whilst many critics take umbrage with Con Air’s ridiculousness, cinemagoers seem to love the film for that self-aware absurdity.
And decades later we’re happy to poke fun at its silly sense of fun.
The result was Con Air won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Human Property.
And the film’s nauseating soundtrack header song How Do I Live was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry.
However, it was also up for an Oscar for Best Original Song!
So, make of that what you will. It kind of sums the whole Con Air experience up really. You’re either going to hate the thing, or love its ridiculousness.