Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Essentials- "Con Air" (1997)

The Essentials- #65

Con Air

For this installment of The Essentials, I really meant to review “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”

After I got home from my screening of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” I had noticed that my girlfriend had friends over and I didn’t want to be a hermit typing away at my computer. I always have a great time when company is at our place and this occasion was no different. We ate, we drank, and everybody stayed late. As I sat down to watch “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is was roughly 2:30am and I was tired from the day. I decided to type my review of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and call it a night, but be sure I will make up for it this week when I am nice and fresh.

I am going to keep the summer movie theme going a little bit, but we are going to plunge into some intense action scenery. Whether you love or hate Nicolas Cage and his one-note crazy typecasting he has made for himself, he has made some good action movies over the years. Sure, they are not all gold and some work better than others, but Cage is a lot similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s got an attitude and charisma perfect for action films and Cage displays it with integrity. “Con Air” is a set-up you would only find in an 1990’s action movie. As a group of criminal convicts being transported by plane to new prisons, hijack the plane and plan to leave the country. Among the convicts is Cameron Poe (Cage) is hitching a ride home after almost a decade of incarceration. Cameron Poe is a former Army Ranger who was defending his wife in a bar brawl (which features an uncredited cameo by the always menacing Kevin Gage.) which led Poe to accidently kill a man. He was sentenced to 7-10 years in prison, all the while his wife is giving birth to Poe’s first child. So it seems likely that when Poe is ready to go home, that his ride is stolen by a group of the world’s worst criminals.

“Con Air” is a near-perfect set-up for loud action sequences, minor humor and even some tender moments. You can bet that director Simon West and producer Jerry Bruckheimer took advantage of all of those assets to bring this bombastic yet bracing action picture to life. The crew went the whole nine yards on this one, as the film is decked out with hand-to-hand combat, close quarters combat, plane chases, car chases, explosions at every turn, but never is not a sense of fun going on. The film keeps itself going at a steady pace and never once bores its audience. How can an action movie which features John Malkovich, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey, Nick Chinlund and Myketi Williamson ever be boring? (Even Dave Chappelle appears in as a comical convict.) Each of these tough guys bring their A-games, and the result is an action film that is better than it needed to be and much more fun too.

Nicolas Cage plays a man from the South in this movie and I’ll admit, Cage doesn’t muster the best southern accent. However, his “Crazy Cage” persona is under-wraps for most of the film and very well reserved. Cameron Poe is a sincere man, and all he wants to do is get home to his family, but he is stern and strong when he needs to be and I think that type of character Cage can do in his sleep. Myketi Williamson plays Mike O’Dell, Poe’s cellmate who is being transferred to a different prison. I like the chemistry Williamson and Cage create onscreen, and I felt O’Dell was used specifically and was not just a throw-away, sidekick role. John Cusack also plays an ally-of-sorts to Poe. Cusack plays U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, a man who knows Poe’s story and is willing to work with him to bring down the bad guys. It’s a great role for Cusack and he relishes every moment of it.

Have I mentioned any of the convicts yet? Because I think this is a good time too. The plane is filled with some of the most colorful, delirious and crazy baddies ever assembled in an action movie. They are led by Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, a man who claims he has killed more men than cancer. He is played by John Malkovich and I have to say that this is some of the best work Malkovich has ever done. Malkovich is horrifying as Cyrus, he is a powerful presence in the film and an absolutely believable convict. He handles the silly one-liners with ease and makes them as “less-cheesy” as possible. In these mindless action movies, the villains are always painted in the broad strokes and it is never easy for an actor to make those villains feel grounded.  The work by Malkovich is a rare exception to that mentality.

As the film ends, the actors are introduced with the names of the characters they played. I always found it funny that each actor smiled while being introduced, while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” plays in the background. I think that was the idea that West and Bruckheimer were going for. This is a movie that isn’t even remotely trying to take itself seriously. “Con Air” is all fun, start to finish, so that is the best way to approach it.

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