It has a cast that would rival that of most Best Picture winners. Cage. Malkovich. Rhames. Buscemi. Cusack. But Con Air never professes to be anything more than what it is. There is something so beautifully unapologetic about the movie. Even as it goes so far over-the-top as to be completely absurd and unbelievable (about five minutes in), even as characters deliver one fantastic one-liner after another, no one ever straddles the wrong side of the line, winking at the audience or delving into self-consciousness… the way the people involved in the disaster that was Wild, Wild West did, for instance. Oh, Con Air is cheese. It’s corn, it’s camp, it’s everything else. But it goes down easy.
I love how the backstory is conveyed via a rapid-fire montage prior to the credits (a sort of precursor to The Departed), as though any effort for plot rationalization was in vain, a mere annoyance to be ushered away as soon as humanly possible. I can’t help but chuckle at the sheer terror on the face of little Casey Poe, as she takes a disgusting, wet stuffed bunny retrieved from the streets, before biting her lip and leaning in for the most awkward hug of her young life. I notice the two or three lines inexplicably delivered completely in wooden fashion (look for “the civilian casualties will be enormous” late in the film). And there’s the indefensible southern accent by Nick Cage, rivaling Costner’s Bostonian speak in Thirteen Days.
In any other movie, those moments might be embarrassing missteps. Here, they fit. Completely over the top. Completely nonchalant. And just chock-full of awesome. A firefight in the desert. A crash landing on the Strip. A fire truck chase. Listen, there’s really nothing I can do here, because either you can have fun with it, or you can’t. But how can you not? It’s like Snakes on a Plane, only 10 years prior, and with drama and tension, great dialogue, and far more badass action. It’s entertaining as hell – arguably the best ‘bad’ movie of all time. That’s why it gets my Movie Stamp of Approval. But it’s simple. “They somehow managed to get every creep and freak in the universe onto this one plane. And then somehow managed to let them take it over… and then somehow managed to stick us right smack in the middle.” That’s a good time. Welcome to Con Air.