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Should I Watch..? 'Con Air' (1997)

Updated on April 2, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

US poster for "Con Air"
US poster for "Con Air" | Source

Please have your passports ready...

Con Air is an action thriller film released in 1997 and written for the screen by Scott Rosenberg. The film sees Nicholas Cage play a jailed US Army Ranger caught up in a daring break-out attempt on board a plane filled with dangerous criminals. Despite mixed reviews at the time, it has since become a cult favourite among action fans and is an example of the excessive and overly stylised take on the genre popularised by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer in the late Eighties and Nineties. I'm an avid consumer of action movies and I find the film in a well-populated genre and up against the likes of Speed, The Rock and Bad Boys. Against these equally stylish movie, it's a hard movie to take seriously but it's a serviceable action flick that just about does enough.


3 stars for Con Air (1997)

Please observe the safety video...

Decorated US Ranger Cameron Poe is enjoying a night out with his pregnant wife Tricia when a bunch of drunks appear and threaten them. Defending himself and Tricia, Poe accidentally kills one of them and is sentenced to serve 7-10 years for manslaughter.

After eight years, Poe is due to be released after a flight home to Alabama on the Jailbird, a C-123K transport plane, along with several other inmates including Poe's diabetic cellmate Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell. However, before he can enjoy his freedom, the plane is hijacked by more dangerous inmates. Led by criminal mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, the crooks take over the plane and take a very different route to freedom. Poe quickly decides to lead the fight back against the escaped convicts after O'Dell's health begins to suffer while on the ground, US Marshall Vince Larkin works with DEA Agent Duncan Malloy in order to bring the plane down safely after learning that one of the convicts is actually an undercover DEA agent.

Trailer (low-res)

If you'd like to look right...

Con Air might only have Jerry Bruckheimer as sole producer (Don Simpson died before this film was released) but the pair's influence is clear to see. This is a loud, bombastic production that rattles your speakers and scorches your eyebrows. And if that's all you're looking for then this al all you'll ever need. Feeling like a more tongue-in-cheek concept of Die Hard on a plane, the cast have fun with their larger-than-life characters - few more so than Malkovich who snarls his way through the film like a hungry tiger being served a buffet. I also enjoyed Steve Buscemi's appearance as a Hannibal Lecter-type serial killer, his softly spoken demeanor at odds with the heavy security around him.

Note above the Razzie award that film won - "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property". This was the only year the award was on offer and highlights just how truly over-the-top the movie's action scenes are. And considering that a fellow nominee was the apocalyptic Volcano, you know exactly what you're letting yourself in for.

Nicholas Cage in Con Air
Nicholas Cage in Con Air

Fun Facts

  • Director Simon West's first feature film. His earlier efforts included the video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"!
  • The Jailbird itself had a number of both military and private owners until 2010 when it crashed into Mount Healy in Alaska, killing its three crew members.
  • John Cusack is known to dislike this movie so much that he refuses to discuss it in interviews. And he was in 2012 too so that's saying something!

We're just experiencing some turbulence...

Despite the cons having all the fun, Nicholas Cage is a disappointment as Poe. Looking like a muscular hippie on route to a festival, his holier-than-thou attitude grates from the off and I never really got behind him as a hero in the same way I did with him in The Rock. Colm Meaney is also miscast as the hard-as-nails DEA Agent Malloy - those more used to seeing him as Chief O'Brien in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or "Deep Space Nine" will simply never take him seriously. Even his personalised number plate gets a giggle.

To be honest, it's hard to really get behind the film because it's just too silly. Compared to The Rock, Con Air feels dangerously close to a parody and certainly by the time of the ill-fated landing attempt on the Las Vegas Strip, destroying almost everything in the process. Action fans will lap it up but today, living in the post-"Matrix" world, it feels even more old-school than ever.

The model of the Jailbird transport plane, now found outside Wendover Airport in Utah
The model of the Jailbird transport plane, now found outside Wendover Airport in Utah | Source

We're now approaching our destination...

Con Air is maybe not the best example of a well-written or deep action movie but it does enough to satisfy fans of the genre overall, being both extremely noisy and very explosive. It's as loud, daft and brash as you'd hope it to be and surely, that's the point. Personally, I prefer a bit of brains to go with the brawn but it's a perfectly good movie for a boys' night in. Just don't expect anything deep or cutting-edge, that's all.

Great For: boys of all ages, action movie fans, noisy nights in

Not So Great For: people who don't like flying, lovers of subtle drama, Las Vegas residents

If you'd like any further assistance...

There are plenty of other action movies to choose from and it really depends on the type of viewer you are. For other movies that rely on pyrotechnics at the expense of script, Bad Boys is a good place to start or going a bit further back, Commando is just as adrenaline-fuelled but equally as silly. If you like a bit more tension involved then may I direct you to either Speed or the under-rated The Long Kiss Goodnight which are every bit as old-school as Con Air but have a bit more going for them.

Of course, you could be boring and have your explosions and stunts all carefully framed on computer in all manner of films these days. For this, you can thank The Matrix which introduced audiences to the hidden world of Bullet Time, the slow-motion theatrics that allowed for some ground-breaking action sequences.

We'll be your flight crew for today...

Nicholas Cage
Cameron Poe
John Malkovich
Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom
John Cusack
Vince Larkin
Ving Rhames
Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones
Steve Buscemi
Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene
Colm Meaney
Duncan Malloy
Danny Trejo
Johnny "Johnny-23" Baca

Thank you for flying with...

Simon West
Scott Rosenberg
Running Time
115 minutes
Release Date (UK)
6th June, 1997
Action, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Sound, Best Original Song
Razzie Nomination
Worst Original Song (How Do I Live)
Razzie Award
Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property

© 2015 Benjamin Cox


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