Guilty Pleasure Movie Week
Take one cast full of megastars with numerous memorable roles already in their respective portfolios, add in a few great character actors, embellish with the adrenalin, in-your-face, highly-stylized mayhem of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, mix liberally with the talents of a first-time movie director whose resume had most recently included Budweiser commercials with dancing ants, and what do you get? Only one of the biggest hits of 1997, the critically-panned but commercially-successful “Con Air“.
Con Air tells the story of Cameron Poe* (Nicolas Cage, working with Bruckheimer for the second straight movie after the similarly-styled “The Rock“). Poe is a former U.S. Army Ranger, so you know he has all sorts of combat training (and, it turns out, one poorly executed supposedly Southern accent by Cage). He arrives home after fighting in Desert Storm and being honorably discharged from the military. However, on the night he returns, he is assaulted by three drunkards while escorting his pregnant wife (Monica Potter) home from the bar where she was waiting for him (Note to wife: second-hand smoke isn’t good for you or your unborn child, and if your hubby is coming home from the war, is the bar really the nicest place you can think to meet him?).
* "Cameron Poe" anagrams to such phrases as "poor menace", "peace moron" and "No rape! Come!". Strangely, all of these seem to fit the character at various stages of the movie.
Poe defends her by using his special ops skills, and subsequently kills one of his attackers. On advice from his attorney, he pleads guilty to first-degree manslaughter, expecting leniency from the court due to his military service. However, the judge sentences Poe to 7–10 years in a maximum-security Federal penitentiary, because his special ops training makes him a deadly weapon. Uh yeah, OK . . . but no way would that have happened had that character been played by Steven Seagal. Anyway, I would have paid to see Poe inflict his training on his lawyer afterwards.
Poe keeps his nose clean in jail and ends up getting paroled eight years later. He is to be flown back on the “Jailbird,” a C-123 airplane, along with several other prisoners that are being transferred to a new super-duper-maximum security prison.
Now here I must admit a bit of a bias in my choice for a guilty pleasure movie, as my current employer at one time did in fact fly inmates upstate. And I can tell you beyond a reasonable doubt that no parolee would EVER get released this way. But let’s not let that detract from the story, shall we?
Meanwhile, DEA agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney, playing against his usual mild-mannered type from the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series) approaches U.S. Marshal in charge of the transfer, Vince Larkin (the always enjoyable John Cusack), and requests he slip an undercover agent on board to coax information out of a drug lord during the flight. Larkin reluctantly agrees on the condition the agent doesn’t carry a weapon, but Malloy manages to slip a gun to the agent before boarding. (Silly DEA agent! Don’t you know guns, mean convicts and pressurized aircraft don’t mix?)
Wouldn’t you know it . . . shortly after takeoff, the prisoners launch what turns out to have been a carefully-planned and scripted coup led by Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich, in a restrained, cool, and understatedly convincing role) and overpower the guards, taking control of the plane; when the DEA agent tries to take control of the situation by brandishing his now-not-sneaked-on-anymore gun, he is quickly killed by Grissom. Poe opts to keep his “secretly a good guy just trying to get home to his ‘hummingbird'” identity quiet (yes, that’s Poe’s pet name for his wife . . . hummingbird) and cooperates with Grissom, who promises all prisoners that they will be flown to a non-extradition country thanks to the drug overlord, if they help out.
The plane lands as scheduled to make prisoner transfers; Grissom and his crew pose as guards and take advantage of a dust storm to make sure the transfer appears to go smoothly, acquiring reinforcements such as a pilot known as Swamp Thing (veteran character actor M.C. Gainey) and Garland Greene (a droll Hannibal Lecter-like psychopath with a keen sense of humor, played by a scene-stealing Steve Buscemi).
Meanwhile, Joe “Pinball” Parker (played by a then-unknown David (not Dave) Chappelle) sneaks the Jailbird’s original transponder onto a private tour plane, leading the authorities astray. Although Poe secretly manages to get word out on the hijacking, it is too late to stop the plane from taking off.
The rest of the movie is filled with the expected slow-motion fireballs, explosions and a couple of laugh out loud moments (sometimes all combined within one ten-minute segment):
There is also the birth of a catch-phrase or two (thanks to a scene featuring Cage and the great slimy character actor Nick Chinlund), and a plane landing on the Las Vegas strip. We also learn that a mere bullet won’t stop our Cameron Poe.
The movie also features none other than Ving Rhames as Grissom’s right hand man, Rachel Ticotin (remember her from “Total Recall”?) as a prison guard whom Poe protects from being raped (see . . . I told you those anagrams meant something), and Mykelti Williamson as a convict whose life Poe sticks around to save despite Poe having a chance to get off the plane earlier (noble Ranger, that Poe).
I never fail to watch this movie when I happen upon it while flipping channels, yet I never go out of my way to clear my dance card to view it if I know its going to be on, and I am fully aware that its inane, mindless entertainment. And that is my definition of a Guilty Pleasure Movie.