Con Air

Bored? Why not rub your face in depravity?
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Simon West
Starring: 
Nicholas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames
The Setup: 
Good, honest man wronged must foil a plane full of the worst criminals in the United States. Good thing he's a RANGER!
Discussion: 

I had rented this movie because I wanted to watch it again for my essay on how movies like this and the remake of The Longest Yard feature at least one prominent "fag" character in order to deflect any latent homoerotic feelings the young males in the audience might feel upon watching so many hunky guys, but I have to say I was dreading watching the movie. I had seen it years ago, when it came out, and walked out fairly disgusted with the lameness of the movie itself, but also the scummy thrills it tries to get out of the threat of child rape [more on that below], and thought that maybe I would just fast-forward through it to get the evidence I needed for my essay. BUT. the movie was so aggressively terrible from the first frame that I had to sit down and watch the whole thing! I was sucked in! And WHAT a hoot it was.

Removed eight years from when this was released, it's shocking how utterly LUDICROUS the whole thing seems. This was among the first of the films made after Nicholas Cage has firmly committed himself to his strictly-enforced "Bad Movies ONLY" policy, which he has been remarkably faithful to until recently. His outrageously terrible DRAWL throughout this movie is the least of the laughably awful things about it. What really sets this movie apart is how pathetically desperate it is to be "badass" in its every shot, line, and performance. Every prisoner seems to be glowering craaaazy-like in some errant shot from a rock video. Every car MUST be shot with an amber sunset shining through the dust it kicks up. You get the idea. Everything is cranked up to eleven-in the MOST ludicrous way.

Nicholas Cage plays a nice family man and former Marine Ranger who was only thrown in jail because he killed a man while defending his family! He's put on a plane with what we are told are the absolute worst criminals currently in existence, who immediately [well, not immediately, since everything in this movie is outrageously protracted for effect] take over the plane once in flight, and poor Nicholas, who was a Ranger, I remind you, has to fight for his honor, and the chance to see his daughter. He shouldn't bother, we should tell him, as the poor tyke seems to be every bit as blank and bland as his wife. But I guess I'm not the target audience.

This is a movie that strives to rub the audience's face in horror for the frisson it can provide, as well as employing it in the previously mentioned desire to be "badass." Therefore, a woman is several times threatened with rape [and our heroes get to prove their virtue by protecting her], a Native American man is set on fire [accompanied by the line: "Hey man, the last Mohican is on fire!"], and then there's the child rape.

You see, Steve Buscemi's character is introduced in a desperate bid to gain the last shred of interest anyone had in Hannibal Lecter, all straps and face masks and everything. We are told that he "makes the Manson family look like the Partridge family," that he killed 130 people, and that he has a particularly fondness for raping and killing young girls. He tells Cage's character that he drove through three states "wearing a little girls' head as a hat." So it's not a pretty thing when the movie has Buscemi wander over to an abandoned swimming pool that a young girl is playing near, and sit down to pretend tea with her. There is a great deal of suspense as the movie invites us to imagine what will happen to the girl, and even shows the girl in "molester vision" from Buscemi's POV. Later, a shot of broken teacups on the table invites us to think that the worst has happened to the girl, which is confirmed by a shot of Buscemi walking away, strange look on his face, as he holds the doll the girl was playing with in his hand. The girl was raped and killed, the film heavily implies--isn't that awesome!? Later there is a disingenuous shot that tells us that the girl is okay, but by that time the film has already asked the audience to get thrills from the thought of the girl getting raped. This shot attempts to let the audience--and the film--off the hook, but by then the damage has already been done, and the disgusting taste lingers.

The fag appears out of nowhere and, let us say, does not present a balanced and positive view of alternative sexuality. His name, we learn in the credits, is "Sally can't dance." He is bitchy and queeny to the Nth degree. At their first stop, when the others are concerned with eating and finding supplies, he searches for a woman's dress to wear [as disco music plays on the soundtrack]. He is later seen dancing in front of all the men, and when he finally stands up to Cage, he is defeated by being slapped, at which point he shrieks. It all might be more insulting if the entire movie were ANYTHING.

Cage, as I said, is a Ranger, which is apparently some branch of the Marines, and we all know how sentimental the Marines are about their honor and integrity and whatever. The film panders badly to its red state demographic by buying into this whole-heartedly. Cage defends the woman from being raped. Why? 'Cause he's a RANGER! At one point Cage has an opportunity to get off the plane, though that would mean leaving a friend behind. But he can't! Why? 'Cause he's a RANGER! He does everything he can to foil the ciminals and bring the plane down--even though it may mean never seeing his daughter. Why? Well, you know why.

The scenes here keep ending before they seem to get going because the target demographic cannot pay attention for more than 13 seconds. John Cusack seems to try to avoid showing his embrarrassment by moving fast and just playing it straight. Malkovich has several laughably shoehorned-in mentions that they're flying "con air." Adding to the general disgust, Malkovich's character threatens to rape and kill Cage's 8-year-old daughter. Child rape: it's family entertainment!

Finally the plane crashes and you think it'll all be over, but no! There's a ludicrous chase which ends with Malkovich getting impaled, THEN having his head crushed. Remember in the late 80s/early 90s when every villain couldn't just die, but had to be IMPALED? You know, you really haven't met justice until you're impaled. But not by 1997, impalement just isn't bad enough, apparently, so you may have to be both impaled AND have your head crushed. Take heed, would-be evildoers.

I know I've railed on this movie, and there IS plenty of morally disgusting stuff in it, but I got big laughs throughout from how desperately it was trying in every way to be REALLY HARDCORE. It's like watching a 12-year-old boy strutting around the mall looking for some way to prove what a tough guy he is. I found it hilarious. Does this mean I have to revisit all those shitty action movies of the 80s and 90s now? God, I hope not.

Should you watch it: 

If you find laughs in a lame movie aimed at 14-year-old boys trying pathetically to be really, really tough.

RELATED ESSAY:
THE FUNCTION OF THE 'FAG' contains a discussion of what I think that prominent gay character is doing here.