Junkfood Cinema: Con Air

By  · Published on July 23rd, 2010

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; you should be ashamed. That’s right, this is the internet column that makes us all look bad. And by us, I don’t mean film critics, but rather any responsible film-watcher/eater of food. Each week I shake and bake my favorite bad movies for your reading displeasure. These movies are very un-bueno but have a certain indefinable quality that makes them impossible not to love. Actually, if that quality still comes across as undefinable after you read the piece, I really haven’t done my job have I? To add extra awesome sauce to your Friday, each week I pair the film with an appropriate snack food that promises to ruin your beach season. This week we take flight with none other than Con Air.

What Makes It Bad?

I am honestly disappointed in myself that I have not yet tackled a Jerry Bruckheimer fiasco. The man’s filmography reads like a who’s who of guilty pleasures. He’s like Roger Corman with a engorged budget. He has amazingly few entries to which I could point and, without an ironic smile on my face, call a good film. Con Air is an especially cheesy, popcorny summer stinkbomb that soars to new heights of schlock. As with many JFC alum, the problems with Con Air are virtually innumerable but I will focus on a few of the choicest turds.

The plot of this film is about as contrived as humanly possible. When people use the expression about having a “team of monkeys” working on something, they are obviously failing to realize that the script for Con Air was actually written by four tufted capuchins. Nothing about this damn thing makes any sense. Our hero punches a man who is attempting to kill him with a knife and that assailant ends up dead. In all of cinema there has never been a clearer case of self-defense and yet the judge manifests a nonexistent statute about military men not being allowed to defend themselves because, essentially, they are too good at it and gives Cage 7–10 years. I’m terribly sorry but…WHAT?! I’ll let that forced plot device slide for a moment if only to point out a much bigger one. What royal moron in the criminal justice system thought it was a good idea to put the entire third season of America’s Most Wanted on one freaking aircraft? Who could have seen this coming? Anyone with eyes, that’s who! Not even Sam L. Jackson would take this flight.

Last week’s Vampire’s Kiss represented Nicolas Cage’s first Junkfood Cinema appearance. If there was one JFC-worthy actor we were criminally overlooking it was Nicolas mellonfarmin’ Cage. He is a tall drink of white trash with long, stringy hair that was clearly chosen under the delusion that long hair is tantamount to a character being seen as deep and pensive. I said it last week, and I continue to believe, the biggest problem with Nicolas Cage is that he is far too crazy for the regular Joe characters in which Hollywood kept trying to shoehorn him. Few examples of this fallacy shine with as much redneck luminance as Cameron Poe from Con Air. His every line delivery is obviously designed to paint him as a badass action hero when in fact he ends up sounding like a drunken homeless man from the deep south. I defy you not to cackle as he deadpans his way through the “bunny in the box” speech.

As harmless as Con Air may seem to the casual observer, it is the movie that unleashed a hellish virus upon the world. What am I babbling about? If you turned on a radio between June 1997 and December 1998, then your poor ears bore the brunt of that virus. The theme song from Con Air, “How Do I Live,” was as infectious as the flu except far more vomit-inducing. There is some controversy as to Trisha Yearwood versus LeAnn Rimes singing the song on the radio versus in the film but it turns out there are few things more boring than that story. All I know is I can’t hear that song without tasting the stale punch of 1,000 proms or the frustrating unoriginality of 1,000 first dances at 1,000 weddings. I think the title should be forever changed to “How Did We Live Through That Song.”

Why I Love It!

Like many of Bruckheimer’s films, Con Air is 115 minutes of unhinged, unrelenting action candy. As I stated before, Bruckheimer is not exactly the purveyor of the world’s foremost art house fodder, but there is something amazing about this level of blockbuster abandon. The movie can barely go five minutes without a fight scene, car chase, explosion, or shooting. Each moment of extreme Bruckheimerness is perfectly accompanied by that signature electric guitar that pulses to the rhythm of your brain cells committing suicide. The icing on this machismo adrenaline cake has to be the climactic plane landing. You have to admire the balls of a writer who triumphantly asserts, “logic be damned, I’m landing a plane on the goddamn Las Vegas strip!” It ends up being one of the silliest, but undeniably coolest stunt sequences ever.

I know I said he’s terrible in this, and he is terrible in this, but I cannot help but enjoy Nicolas Cage’s performance. He seems totally unaware of where he is or what he’s doing other than occupying the skin of a noble hillbilly. In many ways, this film is the perfect synergy of the problems with his b.s. leading man mold and his innate insanity. The director is doing everything he can to make Cage’s heroic everyman as generic as possible and yet Cage finds a way to release hints of his madness peak through. He flounders with his southern accent in a way that can only be intentional while also finding the exact wrong way to deliver every line; that is in terms of the feel of the film. His line reads are however pitch perfect for those in the neo-Nic Cage fandom.

The supporting cast of this film is epic. Ving Rhames, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo, Colm Meaney, Dave Chapelle, M.C. Gainey…oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed. I can’t tell whether John Cusack is trying too hard with his application of legitimate acting to a film like this or if John Malkovich is trying to hard with his preposterously articulate non-accent and God-awful oneliners. I now he’s highly regarded, but I honestly think Malkovich is just as much a parody of himself as is Cage and just isn’t as well known. However, Steve Buscemi manages to strike the perfect balance between loony and poised and easily establishes himself as the best actor in the film. His one-off lectures on the plane are matched only by his proving that a serial killer can be rehabilitated by shooting craps.

If you like this movie, as I most certainly do, you are one lucky bastard. Not only do you have the ability to own this film on both standard DVD and Blu-ray, but you have about a one in six chance in seeing it each and every time you turn on your TV. Con Air, for some bizarre reason is the basic cable darling that never seems to go away. Seriously, turn on TNT, TBS, or Spike any given weekend and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that this film is playing. Classic!…?

Junkfood Pairing: Chocolate Bunnie

The fact that they are chocolate bears little relevance other than your options for these typically seasonal delights are thusly limited. Try reciting “take the bunnie out of the box” as you hand them to your friends who may or may not be busy dancing around to the not-so-air-travel-friendly “Sweet Home Alabama”.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.