"Dear Hummingbird, break out the fine china, chill the lemonade, tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...cause this boy's comin' home to his ladies, comin' home forever."
A man no less than James Lipton once said that Nicolas Cage owned the summers of 1996 ("The Rock") and 1997 ("Con Air," "Face/Off"). With all due respect to Mr. Lipton...he's never been more right.
And so it begins
"Con Air" moves along at a breakneck speed and with a clear sense of confidence, a confidence that comes largely from the script and music. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg knew he'd happened upon a one in a million premise for an action movie, even if it's basically just "Die Hard on a plane" (which is technically what "Executive Decision" and "Air Force One" are as well, but "Con Air" blows them away). So he peppered his script with some outrageous one-liners and a bevy of memorable character parts.
John Malkovich rarely needs an excuse to ham it up
The casting director filled those roles out beautifully with guys like John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo ("Machete"), M.C. Gainey (TV's "Lost"), and even a cameo by Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) from "Twin Peaks." Malkovich in particular is damn scary, looking considerably beefed up for the role. I think the guy normally weighs about 120lbs sopping wet but in "Con Air" he comes across as an able killer - a good match for Nic Cage's ex-Army Ranger.
Then you've got the soundtrack by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin, which is this loud rock grind with soaring guitar solos and poignant acoustic arpeggios that would make even Hans Zimmer ("The Rock," "Crimson Tide") blush.
So handsome, you just want to take his face...off.
Seeing as how director Simon West had little experience outside the realm of commercials and music videos (he later on to direct the "Gone in 60 Seconds" remake and, blagh, the first "Tomb Raider" movie), it's not a surprise he directs and edits the whole thing like a music video. With this music, this plot, and a surprisingly ripped Nicolas Cage leaping from explosions in slow motion, his long hair billowing in the wind - what else can you do?!
Wait, is it just me...
or does Nic Cage keep getting closer in these pictures?
And despite a bloated 115 minute run time, it works. It works until we get to the tacked on fourth act, where the editing becomes increasingly frantic - perhaps from a lack of coverage? - and Simon West makes the Vegas strip look like a Joel Schumacher movie (then again, maybe it does - I've never been there).
Then again, this ridiculous sequence goes by so fast that it's difficult to say it detracts from "Con Air" all that much. I mean, "Con Air" itself is ridiculous: it's pure, unfiltered Bruckheimer cheese, scored and scripted to the hilt, with Nic Cage delivering the most bizarre psuedo-Southern accent I've heard. Just embrace it!
"This is a wifebeater! And for me it's a symbol of my individuality, and my belief...in personal freedom."
This was Jerry Bruckheimer's first big production without his former partner Don S. Simpson, who sadly passed away in 1996. Although "Con Air" more or less follows the formula set forth by "The Rock" (Nic Cage, big explosions, exaltation of the military, and endless oneliners), its success guaranteed that the Bruckheimer hit machine would keep rolling on. Bruckheimer has maintained a successful working relationship with Mr. Cage (see: "National Treasure" series, the upcoming "Sorcerer's Apprentice"), an unlikely alliance if there ever was one, but it makes sense when you consider that Bruckheimer has given Cage the opportunity to play all sorts of different characters in the setting of big-budget studio movies.
For my money, Cage's two best performances in action flicks have been "Con Air" and "Face/Off" (the latter not a Bruckheimer flick), largely because these are the two where he really immerses himself in the role. Say what you want about his Southern-fried take on the role but Cage has definitely never played a character like this before (or since).
John Malkovich: "Don't you ever judge me."
Most of the fun of "Con Air" is how the editing is completely in sync with the heavy rock grind of the soundtrack, creating this fist-pumping "What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the fuckin' day" level of excitement that rarely lets up. It's a six-pack of your favorite beer in the form of a movie. The oneliners are near-constant, you've got the unlikely pairing of Nicolas Cage and John Cusack (two 80's icons in their own ways), and Bruckheimer throws a ton of money onscreen so everything blows up real good.
The merits of director Simon West's filmography are certainly debatable but with "Con Air" he did the right thing by not thinking too hard. Set up the camera, set off an explosion, and let Nicolas Cage leap right at the camera in a dirty wifebeater. CUT!
If it feels this good, it can't be wrong