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With a tight plot and great characters, Con Air flies

Con Air

Directed by Simon West.

Written by Scott Rosenberg.

Starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Nick Chinlund, Rachel Ticotin, Colm Meaney, M.C. Gainey, and Ving Rhames.

By Jonathan Litt
Staff Reporter

Jerry Bruckheimer, along with his late pal Don Simpson (who died of a drug overdose last year), have produced some of the most successful action flicks of the last two decades, including Beverly Hills Cop, parts I and II, Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and The Rock, which together have grossed over one and a half billion dollars worldwide. It's fitting that most of his plots involve cops and soldiers, because his movies are executed like a carefully planned assault on the audience. You do not simply watch a Bruckheimer movie, you experience it as if you were meant to take part in any of the various shootouts, arguments, fights, or explosions that are the staple of his genre.

If you're in the mood to be immersed in and pummeled with entertainment, you can't go wrong with Bruckheimer, and Con Air is no exception. Con Air is about as much fun as summer movies get, and is recommended for anyone disappointed by the lackluster summer openers The Fifth Element and The Lost World. (The Lost World may be a box office hit, but I have yet to meet anyone who was impressed with anything other than the computer-generated dinos.) The amazing thing about Con Air is that it has two elements rarely seen together in a full-fledged action flick: an intelligent and well-written script, and absolutely superb performances from over half a dozen major characters.

Nicholas Cage plays Cameron Poe, an Army Ranger who is sent to prison for accidentally killing a drunken man who threatens his pregnant wife. Perhaps the only major plot hole is the lack of a decent explanation for why Poe does not simply plead self-defense, but I'm willing to accept any plot element that involves someone getting screwed by the judicial system. While in prison, Poe decides to hold off meeting his newborn daughter until after he's released so she won't see him in the company of thieves and murderers.

After eight years Poe is finally accepted for parole, and is scheduled for transport on a maximum security airplane that is at the same time scheduled to populate a new prison with a motley crew of maniacal criminals. Led by the cunningly resourceful Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), the criminals take control of the plane, much to the chagrin of Poe who just wants to get back to his wife and daughter. However, Poe successfully hides his true identity as a "good" criminal, and manages to secretly communicate with the authorities on the ground that he is working on their side. Needless to say, after much madness, mayhem, and several plane landings and take-offs, he saves the day with the help of U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack).

It is not so much the plot of Con Air that makes it interesting, but the way the script consistently chugs along without a single dull moment or sleeper scene. There are enough hilarious lines and devious plot developments to leave you both laughing and sitting on the edge of your seat for the majority of the movie. There is also a lifetime's worth of crashes, shootouts, and explosions. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg should definitely be credited for covering all of his bases. (In fact, he will be - I sat in front of his aunt and uncle and afterwards they were swamped with people hoping to relay a congratulations to him. His aunt and uncle pointed out that he has a small cameo as the craps dealer in the final scene of the movie.)

However, most of the credit should go to multitude of stars in the movie, and probably to the casting directors as well. It is easy to imagine a horribly-acted version of this movie, and I have to admit that my expectations weren't high as I walked into the theatre. Nicolas Cage has a much more impressive presence than he did in The Rock, and his burly performance in this movie should quell any doubts that people have expressed about his ability to play Superman in the upcoming Tim Burton remake. John Cusak is fun to cheer for as the clever and determined U.S. Marshall. Last but not least, the entire crew of deranged criminals, including Malkovich, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi, amongst others, are about the most likable bad guys found in any recent movie.

Con Air might not be The English Patient (although both have several plane crashes and burn victims), but of course, that is like comparing a roller coaster to the opera. School is over, the Oscars are a year away, and big-budget action flicks such as Con Air are what summer is all about.