A few years ago, Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) left the U.S. Army and headed back to Alabama to be with his now-pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter). She worked in a smalltown bar, but when Cameron returned and met her there the night he arrived, they were approached by three thugs who tried to wind him up. He was having none of this, and Tricia convinced him not to get into a fight like he used to do, but once they left the bar later to go home, the thugs were waiting and jumped him. He fought them off, but killed one of them in the process, which explains why he has spent the best part of a decade in prison for manslaughter. But now he's getting out - isn't he?
Say what you like about Jerry Bruckheimer movies, he had the money to assemble an impressive cast, and one of his best lineups of talent appeared in Con Air, as far as the men went, anyway, as in this film what women turned up were solely present to be protected by the guys. This was the first of Bruckheimer's movies without the recently deceased Don Simpson, but any queries over whether he could get by without his legendary bad boy business partner were quickly dismisssed when this went on to be one of the biggest hits of the year. And yet, somehow it remains curiously forgotten about in hindsight.
Not completely, but for those who pick their favourite action movies of the period, Bruckheimer's The Rock is more likely to come out ahead, which is a shame because Con Air is far more of a breezy jaunt into action, thrills and laughs, all the things that make up the best of this kind of production. Nobody was going to award it a host of prestigious gongs, but it did know its audience were not entirely made up of the type of people who would have been sharing jailtime with Cameron. So as well as sensitive he-man Cage, for the blue-collar family man types, there was John Cusack playing U.S. Marshal Larkin to give someone the nerds to identify with.
Of course, there were some Hollywooded-up convicts to admire as well, all with nicknames as if they'd stepped out of a Batman comic book. There may have been a heavy influence of the Airport movies here, as every aeroplane plot with a thriller element did once those melodramas had been hits, but there was another work leaning over writer Scott Rosenberg's shoulder, and that was The Silence of the Lambs. Or more accurately, Anthony Hopkins' reading of Hannibal Lecter, who had proved to the money men that putting a diabolical criminal in your film as the man you love to hate would do wonders for your box office potential.
Therefore not only in this stellar cast does John Malkovich enjoy himself as the evil mastermind behind hijacking the flight that Cameron is hoping will land safely as he is on it to be paroled this very day, but you also get Ving Rhames as a black supremacist turned terrorist and Steve Buscemi as a serial killer who is supposed to be more dangerous than any of them, along with sundry hard men and comic relief characters. Sentiment rears its head with Cameron wishing to meet his daughter for the first time, and not only that but it's her birthday, and if you want more he has a fluffy pink bunny to give her as a present, which gives the opportunity for lines like "Put the bunneh back in the bawx", spoken in Cage's dodgy Deep South accent. It ends up with bullets flying, planes crashing, and fire engines careering, but there's enough of a sense of humour here to say, yes, it's ridiculous, but where else are you going to have fun like this? that has Con Air standing out as an unfairly unappreciated instalment of the nineties action juggernauts. Music by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin.