Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
Con Air is 20 today. So I decided it would be a good idea to take a look at one of my favourite 90’s films.
The first thing you notice re-watching Con Air is that for an action film it features very little action. Seriously other than a shoot out, the “Put The Bunny Back in the box” fight and the excellent bone yard scene it’s not the most action packed of action films. That said… it’s still a cracking film that’s aged (and continues to age) very well indeed…
Simon West, a former assistant editor with the BBC and commercials director made his directorial debut under the guidance of producer super star Jerry Bruckheimer (in the days when he made more than terrible Pirate films) working alone after the death of his partner Don Simpson the previous year. Side note: Simpson apparently hated the idea and relinquished all ties to the film when he and Bruckheimer split prior to his death. To put this in context the summer tent pole movies of the Simpson/ Bruckheimer partnership had been on a role after The Rock, Bad Boys & Crimson Tide launching along the way directors like Michael Bay and cementing the late Tony Scott as one of the best action movie directors in the business. But things had soured between the producing pair and Bruckheimer was going it alone. In short: Con Air and West had a LOT to live up to.
And for me at least, It did. With an all star ensemble cast include Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Danny Trejo , Colm Meaney, Ving Rhames and Steve Buscemi, the film was released on June 6th 1997 in the USA. With a on fire Cage (in his new guise as action man) in the lead as Cameron Poe, a newly paroled ex Ranger who is caught on a prisoner transport plane as its taken over by some of the worst criminals in America (who would have thought that plan would have gone wrong) the film delivers killer one liners, a top notch musical score and some very assured direction to make this one of the best action films of the decade.
It’s just great unpretentious fun where every action beat isn’t edited to an inch of it’s life and the film is allowed to breathe between set pieces. It’s measured and even it’s OTT ending (which admitably does jump the shark a bit in Vegas) isn’t totally unbelievable. But like a lot of the films around this era (See Armageddon the follow year) it’s the cast that make it shine. Malkovich especially is great in the villain role and every member of the cast delivers a memorable performance. It just works. It even received awards kudos for the accompanying LeAnn Rimes warbling country track “Who Do I Live”.
Its not all good. Whilst reviews were generally okay some were savage. Cusack apparently hates the film refusing to be interviewed about it and Ving Rhames confesses to having never seen it. On top on that Malkovich hated the fact the script was being rewritten on a daily basis and the film saw FX specialist Phil Swatz killed on set.
Problems aside, the film took $223million USD worldwide (on a $75million USD Budget) so was a hit and has been a cult favourite with it’s stature growing as the years have gone on. I personally prefer it to The Rock and Armageddon and it gets played at least once a year in my house.
Shortly after Con Air the hyper quick editing and explosion driven direction that now make most big budget blockbusters almost unwatchable started to set in. The ensemble action movie (after the following years Armageddon) would take a hiatus until The Expendables franchise launched years later (which ironically West would end up directing the 2nd film) and whilst Bruckheimer would go on to have commercial success with Disney and the Pirates films, director West would never manage to out do his work here, with disappointments like Lara Croft Tomb Raider, The Generals Daughter and Stolen.
In short: If you fancy a slice of unpretentious 90’s action fun full of silly one liners, OTT charecters and Steve Buscemi’s most insane character yet you can do FAR worse than Con Air.
Best Bit: Is that my car…
Buy, Stream, Avoid: Buy
If You Liked this Try: The Rock, The Expendables 3, Armageddon
Author: Phil Hobden