Con Air

on June 06, 1997 by Wade Major
If the folks decrying Hollywood movies as too big, too expensive, too stupid and too loud think they already have a case, just wait until they get a gander at "Con Air." Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's first solo outing since the passing of partner Don Simpson is basically a dressed-up retread of their last film together, "The Rock," by way of "Die Hard." Unfortunately, this Touchstone effort falls well below the stature of its aspirations, too often substituting bombast for believability before finally plunging headlong into the ridiculous.
   Unlike his everyman hero in "The Rock," Nicolas Cage's Cameron Poe is a straight-out tough guy. After eight years in the pen on a bum manslaughter rap, he's ready to go home to his wife and to the daughter he's never seen. But being the wrong place, wrong time kind of guy he is, Poe's plane ride home also happens to be escorting a dozen or so of the country's worst criminals to a new maximum security facility. As any good moviegoer knows, bad guys in transit are a recipe for chaos.
   Before Poe can say "Edgar Allen," the plane has been hijacked by the cons, led by diabolical mastermind Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and his musclebound right arm Diamond Dog ("Rosewood's" Ving Rhames), who must now execute a daring escape plan to confuse the efforts of noble G-Man Larkin ("Grosse Pointe Blank's" John Cusack). Larkin, of course, has his own problems on the ground, dealing with the usual array of thick-headed action movie officials. Fortunately, Larkin's "ally in the sky" isn't about to miss his long overdue family reunion.
   Although Cage and Cusack handle their respective action hero roles well enough, it's Malkovich's wiseacre psychopath and a colorful collection of mostly cartoonish bad-guys that keep "Con Air" at cruising altitude until a climactic shootout at an abandoned airfield. Unfortunately, the shootout is only the beginning of the end, the first in a long series of climaxes and explosion-laden set pieces that stretch the film's credibility so far past breaking that it verges on unintentional comedy.
   On the technical side, first-time director Simon West (presumably not a pseudonym for Jerry Bruckheimer) does his very best Tony Scott impression while macho-movie composer Mark Mancina covers the myriad plot holes with yet another variation on his "thundering bass and percussion" theme. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg ("Beautiful Girls") also merits credit for his seamless integration of every imaginable action film cliche into one script.
   There once was a time when people thought Jerry Bruckheimer to be the quiet voice of reason that restrained Don Simpson's testosterone. With Bruckheimer now going it alone, it appears the reverse might have been true.    Starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Rachel Ticotin and Colm Meaney. Directed by Simon West. Written by Scott Rosenberg. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. A Buena Vista release. Action. Rated R for strong violence and language. Running time: 115 min
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