Directed by Simon West
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p (AVC codec)
Running Time: 115 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Review Date: January 6, 2008
Con Air carries on in the hallowed tradition of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s action predecessors like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Rock: loud, action-filled, and audience-pleasing. This one, though, seems more haphazardly put together with gaping plot holes and eye-rolling coincidences piled thickly upon one other. Seeing it again after a decade away from it hasn’t improved it at all. In fact, its flaws seem ever more glaring now.
Con Air has a simple enough premise: an airplane is filled with dangerous criminals being transported to another destination. Unknown to the authorities, some of the convicts on-board have an escape plan that will allow them to take over the plane, fly it to another destination, and link up with some drug runners before escaping from the United States to the country of an international drug kingpin who’s financing the operation.
Unknown to the convicts (which include mass murderers, Dahmer-like fiends, and others of ill repute), also on board the airliner is Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage), a highly decorated, uniquely skilled former Army ranger who is being paroled after serving eight years on a trumped up manslaughter charge (we see the killing in a pre-credit sequence and easily see that it’s self defense). Even after being shafted by his country, Poe still maintains his loyalty and, desiring nothing more than to see his wife and daughter after all this time, he does all he can to thwart the crooks while attempting to stay in their good graces as long as he can.
Simon West has directed this messy series of action sequences with an eye for the spectacular. The climactic showdown in Las Vegas seemingly wrecks the city though continuity between various types of effects shots used in this sequence is lacking. Worse, he has little skill with dialog and character building moments, so those are quickly dispatched in favor of more mayhem and hullabaloo.
Nicholas Cage, who proved his action movie credentials quite assuredly in the smash hit The Rock, is back again pumped up and stern as the Elvis-sounding, poker-faced protagonist. This is a man who wouldn’t show emotion no matter what the situation but who takes it all with a glum disposition and a steely stare. That rockabilly accent, however, has been pulled out of mothballs from its use in Wild at Heart and is both phony and irritating.
A host of character actors has been assigned the juicy roles of the maniacal villains, and you can practically see John Malkovich chuckling over the inane dialog he has to spout (which he does in a too-studied fashion lessening his sinister presence) or Steve Buscemi slavering over the deranged serial murderer he enacts (in a deadpan, uncreative counterpoint to Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs). Other killers of note are Ving Rhames who has a black power agenda all his own once he gains his freedom, M. C. Gainey as Swamp Thing, a redneck pilot virtually reprising his good ol’ boy turn in Breakdown, and Renoly as a transvestite prisoner who’s just looking for a dress to wear to the ambush.
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg fills the movie with too many subplots. In addition to fighting the cons on the plane and trying to save himself so he can be reunited with his wife and child, Cage must also attempt to locate a syringe for his diabetic cellmate (the excellent Mykelti Williamson) who’s slowly falling into a diabetic coma. There’s a female guard who is captured and constantly being assaulted by a sex-crazed rapist (Danny Trejo) that Cage must try to protect. And there’s John Cusak as a federal marshal trying to keep Cage alive while fighting with a loudmouthed DEA agent (Colm Meaney) who’s stubbornly determined to do things his way in spite of his inexperience in these matters. (Must these movies always have one governmental killjoy whose blustering ego thwarts the heroes at every turn?) The movie is too cluttered and too distractingly busy for its own good, and there is at least one climax too many before the film wraps up its story.
The film’s theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented on this Blu-ray disc in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though sharp as a tack and generally clean (I noticed only a random speck or two of dirt), the transfer is too light and lacks contrast making flesh tones appear slightly undersaturated. Colors are acceptable and never bloom, but there are only a few scenes that really present the dimensionality of the best high definition transfers. (The last third of the movie seems much more solid visually.) I glimpsed a thin edge halo or two as well. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 track (48 kHz/24 bit, 4.6 Mbps) is an engaging, sonic thrill-ride filled with music and sound effects thundering constantly through all available channels. LFE is effectively used through the many crashes and explosions that occur throughout the film.
Each of the three bonus features is presented in 480i.
“A View from Above” is a 4½-minute EPK featurette with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Simon West, and actors Nicholas Cage, John Cusak, and John Malkovich commenting on their upcoming film.
“The Destruction of Las Vegas” should have been the best extra on the disc, but instead, it’s only a 2½-minute added EPK bit on how the climactic sequence in the picture was filmed combining miniature work with digital compositing to effect a continuous scene.
The original theatrical trailer runs for 2 ½ minutes and repeats scenes and voiceover from the EPK excerpts above.
The Disney movie showcase chooses three scenes from the film as reference quality moments. The scenes are good choices but each is interrupted in the middle of the sequence.
Con Air generates the thrills to be sure, and that’s its greatest strength. Tight plotting and smart dialogue, the hallmarks of the best of the action genre, are missing through much of the film, but action fans won‘t care. Con Air has an exemplary cast in a high octane adventure that’s sure to satisfy fans of the genre.