Retro Rewind: Con Air

Posted April 29, 2016 by Gary Theroux in Movies

Retro Rewind: Con Air (1997)

By Gary Theroux

April 26/2016


Con Air (1997)

Rating: (R)

Director: Simon West

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score: 54%

Rotten tomatoes Fans Score:  75%


I was 13 years old in the summer of 1997 when Con Air was released.  Street hockey, Nintendo 64 and cheesy action movies might have been my 3 favorite things in the whole world.  Demolition Man.  Under Siege.   Die Hard With A Vengeance.  The mid 90’s were a gold rush for shaky premises and men on a mission.  And yours truly was in all his pimply faced glory.

Nic Cage had given us The Rock just one summer earlier, and this was his opportunity to show he could top line a summer blockbuster without a Sean Connery to help carry the weight.  John Malkovich and John Cusack joined him above the title and I could not have been more “in” on this movie before I first saw it.

13 year old Gary was not disappointed.

The question in 2016 is, would 32 year old Gary feel the same way?

Well, I blew the dust off my DVD copy and popped it in this week and I have to say, it’s just as fun and flashy and loud as it ever was.  I loved it. This is not to say that it’s flawless.  Its characters are completely without depth.  The dialogue, especially between Cusack’s Agent Larkin and Colm Meany’s Duncan Malloy, pushes the limits of ridiculousness.  And, the climax is so muddled and overdone you can’t help but shake your head.

But, the thing is, I don’t care.


The movie opens with the world’s shortest military training montage, before quickly jumping to a back country bar scene that sets the protagonist on his path.  Nic Cage is Cameron Poe, an Army Ranger returning home to his pregnant wife. (The lovely Monica Potter, capable of much more than she’s asked to do in this film)  And, before we can get through one Leann Rimes slow jam, Poe has drawn the ire of some local yokel and Cage is outside the bar, in a dramatically torrential rain, and the apparent leader of the town’s sexual harassment club is getting his nose bone shoved into his brain.

And this is where the film’s main redeeming quality is revealed.


Poe has killed defending his wife’s honor.  Had a judge declare him a “deadly weapon”.  Been sentenced to 8 years in federal prison.  Corresponded with Mrs. Poe through the birth of their child. Done yoga poses and vertical pushups while young Casey Poe learned to read and write.  Exchanged letters with his daughter while learning Spanish and Origami.  Plus, he’s gotten approved for parole. And the display on my DVD player hasn’t reached ten minutes yet.

Exposition continues at a breakneck pace for the next few minutes.  The conceit of the movie, the worst band of criminals you can imagine all being transported on a single aircraft, is laid out neatly for the viewer.  The cast of characters literally read out for the audience.  And we have liftoff aboard Con Air.


  • Now, it’s at this point I must pause and explain what exactly we’re doing here. This isn’t a “movie review” in the traditional sense.  As I wrote above, I love this movie even now and would recommend you go watch it. (Or re watch it, as it were)  But, this is more of a retrospective for those who have seen the film.  Feel free to read on if you haven’t.  But be warned, spoilers don’t really exist for 19 year old movies.  I hope to use this space to take you through older films in way that will remind you of the conversations you would have with your friends after watching them.  To rehash some of the highlights and lowlights.  And let you see the film through my eyes.  So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue…


Once the plane is in the air, we get our first chance to take a breath.  And one might lean over to their friend in the seat next to them and ask, “What the fuck is up with Nic Cage’s accent?”  It’s so thick and off-putting that you never really accept Cage as his character.  He’s not “Poe”, he’s Nic Cage doing a stupid accent.  Dave Chappelle and Marty McSorley show up and make you smile.  The cons take over the plane in a way that makes you wonder if Larkin might just be the dumbass Malloy thinks he is.  And the 90’s, quick wit, one liner dialogue starts coming fast and furious.  Damn this movie is quotable.


Malkovich just chews the scenery every time he’s onscreen, and he’s so good it’s actually believable that this band of cartoon villains would allow themselves to be barked at by him.  He carries the middle part of the movie, because the main character just needs a moment.  As Cage’s list of problems starts getting out of hand pretty quickly.

  1. Get home to wife and daughter
  2. Don’t let Machete rape the guard lady
  3. Don’t let these psychos find out you’re getting out.
  4. Get Bubba his insulin shot
  5. Help Larkin get the plane on the ground (Even if you have to throw Dave Chapelle’s mannequin corpse out of the plane to do it)
  6. Get Billy Bedlam to put the bunny back in the box

This trip home as become an absolute shit show, and at this point there’s too much to get done for the audience to stop and think about how crazy this all is.  Steve Buscemi is playing some Hannibal Lecter surrogate, but just chillin’ in the quiet part of the plane with Cage and Baby-O?  Malloy can get attack choppers but can’t get a hold of an air traffic controller with a decent radar screen?  Why am I loving this so much

Cameron Poe really is amazing.  That might be why.  He’s basically a boy scout. Won’t leave a friend behind.  He’s constantly keeping his family in his thoughts.  He fights for the guards and his friends, and tries to sabotage Cyrus at the same time.  Yet he’s also a badass.  Kills Billy before he can snitch on him.  Tells Agent Larkin that he’s “gonna save the fucking day” And, did I mention the vertical pushups?

Director Simon West doesn’t take his foot off the gas.  We jump from the plane takeover, to the first of two crash landings, to the cons’ getaway gunfight in quick succession.  Poe is befriending local airfield workers and teaching Johnny 23 about chivalry and etiquette by slamming his head against a steel cage like he’s Stone Cold Steve Austin at the Rumble.

Baby-O really can’t catch a break.  Poe finally gets him his insulin and Cyrus shoots him in the guts?  Then the Apache pilot who apparently takes orders from whomever happens to be in his nose seat tries to shoot the plane down? C’mon man.  You can understand why a guy would have a crisis of faith.  But, never fear! Saint Cameron will reveal to you a miracle!  Cage turns on God mode.  Grunts and punches his way to the front of the plane, literally walking through bullets on his way.  Jedi mind tricks the pilot into agreeing to land the plane.  And sets a course for the Vegas strip, because, why the hell not?  Bad CGI, bad editing and a bunch of staged explosions later, the plane comes to a stop.  And we have a perfectly good ending to a perfectly enjoyable summer romp.

Nay nay, sir. Says West.

For all intents and purposes,  Cyrus the Virus punches his hand out of the garbage pile like The Shredder.  His pilot buddy Swamp Thing is A-OK as well, and they’re still totally committed to this whole “escape” thing.  So, we get treated to a bonus fire truck/cop bike chase.  Poe gets to kill the main boss one on one.  And, would you look at that, someone brought his wife and daughter over so that we could have a grease and blood soaked Kodak moment.  Great call, Mr. Director, sir.  Ending two was well worth it.  Let’s call it 4 out of 5 stars and thanks for reading my inaugural “Retro Review”

But wait. What? Buscemi’s Garland Greene made it out?!?  The guy who killed over a hundred and thirty people and once wore a girls head as a hat through three states?  And he’s playing craps and Sweet Home Alabama is playing and I’m supposed to feel what? Happy for him?

Holy Shit.

Ending Number Three.

I can’t even.

About the Author

Gary Theroux

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