With the Oscar incident marking the mass extinction of the early low-budget Nic Cage films, we now enter the first Action Cage era, which continues through the end of the decade. After Leaving Las Vegas, Cage first went on to do Bay-Bruckheimer blockbuster The Rock, but I cut it from the 30 List in the interest of diversity: Con Air sounded like more fun, and I refuse to skip Face/Off. My apologies to the Sean Connery fans.
Con Air kicks off to a pleasantly over-the-top start when hero Cameron Poe, played by Cage, kills an aggressive thug simply by punching him in the face very, very hard. Although he was defending his pregnant wife, Poe is sentenced to eight years in prison, which he spends reading cutesy letters from his daughter and learning origami. Having established that he is a badass with a heart of gold, Poe is finally paroled, and is just one flight away from a family reunion; unfortunately, his fellow passengers are all diabolical death row types, who promptly take over the plane in order to fly to freedom. The result is standard Bruckheimer action fare: vast arsenals of guns are fired, innocent bystanders are blown to bits, and glowering men calmly walk away from improbably large explosions.
The film happily favours drama over sense, packing the plane to the wings with depraved explosion fodder. Top baddie honours go to John Malkovich, as well-spoken sociopath Cyrus the Virus, but he is assisted by a wide range of mass murderers, militants and serial rapists, plus Steve Buscemi as the sort of nutter who chats about wearing severed heads for hats. Even Cage’s character comments on the absurdity of the situation: “they somehow managed to get every creep and freak in the universe into this one plane,” Poe muses, shortly before beginning to bloodily work his way down the passenger manifest. Poe himself isn’t loaded down with brains either, loudly discussing his intentions to foil the escape on a tiny plane filled with violent, paranoid criminals, although he somehow succeeds anyway.
As for Cage, his performance is one-dimensional, his accent unconvincing and his stringy mane of hair ludicrous, but really, who cares? Why worry about plot or character development when there are cars to be chased, landmarks to be gratuitously destroyed and extras to be set on fire? As guilty pleasures go, Con Air is excellent, revelling in a variety of strong action setpieces and unlaboured by tedious exposition. Mind you, I say this as someone who has watched Bad Boys II more times than anyone would think necessary, or perhaps safe, so it’s possible my grey matter is in a similar state to Cameron Poe’s. Still, for one mindlessly entertaining evening in front of the telly, you could do a lot worse than Con Air.