By Jack Holmes
You can’t beat a classic Nicholas Cage movie, can you? Best worst actor or worst best actor? The 1997 action thriller Con Air has built up quite a cult following over the years from its all-star cast of “all the freaks and creeps in the universe” as Cage’s character puts it, to the over-the-top writing and storyline that lets realism take a back seat.
The head count of the convicts that take centre stage for the length of the movie is testament to just how crazy this film is even without Nicholas Cage’s usual over the top performance, this time as a Southern, borderline hillbilly ranger-turned-convict. From John Malchovich’s ringleader Cyrus, to Hannibal Lector-style serial killer Garland Greene portrayed by Steve Buschemi, Ving James as black militant Diamond Dog and Danny Trejo as serial rapist Johnny 23. They’re matched by the “good guys” on the ground in the form of a US martial (John Cusack) and mad dog DEA agent (Colm Meany), who, at times, seem just as insane as the plane full of criminals. It would be a ridiculously over-the-top cast if the movie didn’t manage to keep its storyline so fast paced that you’re rarely given time to acknowledge just how silly the whole thing is.
It fits comfortably in with the likes of action thrillers such as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Crimson Tide, but its humour is what sets it apart and puts it on parallel with only a few other classics such as the Keanu Reeves fronted Speed from 1994 and perhaps even Will Smith’s Bad Boys movie from ’97. Critics would cite that Con Air does seem to borrow large portions of its entire closing sequence from the former thriller, with both Speed and Con Air featuring chase sequences resulting in huge amounts of destruction, but it takes little away from what is, overall, an original and well written classic. Well worth a watch.
In the same way as these 90s classics had their own iconic scenes, in typical fashion for a Cage movie, Con Airs are so over the top watching them as clips is a sure way to confuse any movie lover that hasn’t gotten around to seeing the whole thing yet. Quote “put the bunny back in the box” to someone who’s seen the movie before and you’ll get an amused nod of approval. Trying to explain it, however, just wouldn’t do the scene justice.
The film’s core appeal lies in its swift pace, one liners and elaborate, often logic defying, action sequences. It’s not a film you can take seriously, and that’s absolutely fine. Con Air manages to walk the thin line between entertainment and stupidity the likes of which hasn’t been accomplished recently bar the likes of Kingsman. Con Air boasts the same kind of comic action appeal long before it became the blockbuster attraction it has in the 21st century, and has solidified its place in film history.