Reality has been dealing me hands ranging from mediocre to garbage over the past few months, so this episode represents something of a retreat to adolescence, to a simpler time when most of the films I watched were Die Hard on an Increasingly Silly Something. The something in this case being aeroplanes, and the silly being off the scales. I am, as ever, a slave to chronology, so let’s kick things off with the classic, for very limited definitions of the term, 1992 Wesley Snipes vehicle Passenger 57
Snipes takes on the role of John Cutter, recently hired from the secret service to be head of Fictitious Airlines security team. He gets more than he bargained for on the flight over to headquarters, as the FBI barge on board transporting, and I’ll quote straight from the Wikipedia article here, international psychopath terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne), known as “The Rane of Terror”, although he does go to great lengths to point out that he is not, as a point of fact, insane.
Everything does not go smoothly, with Rane’s goon squad, including, for some reason, Elizabeth Hurley, enact a plan to bust Rane out of captivity through the medium of hijacking. Cutter, aided by spunky flight attendant Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher) isn’t about to let this stand and tries to stop them, eventually forcing a landing where they must deal with law enforcement officials ranging from the gormless to the somewhat possessed of gorm as Rane’s apparently sophisticated plans play out, which seem mainly to be sophisticated because they’re spoken of in received pronunciation rather than because they’re anything more complicated than “escape with guns”.
Passenger 57 is a movie fondly remembered by, well, very few people, and even then mainly because they recognised how dumb a film this was at the time and took it to heart because of that. People like, well, me, who still cannot get past some extraordinary dialogue choices, from Snipe’s bombastic closest thing he’s got to a catchphrase, “always bet on black”, to Bruce Payne devouring the scenery and delivering lines like an eighth-rate Hannibal Lecter.
I won’t pretend this is anything other than the minimum viable movie framework to allow Wesley Snipes to kick people in the balls and look, well, at least one possible interpretation of cool, against a bad guy performance that makes Hans Gruber look like a model of restraint. Bruce Payne went to RADA. It’s reputation somehow survives. Shorn of the nostalgia, no, there’s no real reason in space year 2019 to watch the surprisingly nicely scrubbed up hi-def release, but I enjoyed my time with it regardless. More fool me.
From the ridiculous to the ridiculous, as we skip forward to 1997’s Con Air. Nic Cage takes the role of Cameron Poe, an Army Ranger finding himself imprisoned for eight years after defending his pregnant wife in a bar-room brawl, killing a fool. As a result he’s not seen his kid, but that’s about to change as he’s paroled. For some reason in the Jerry Bruckheimer Cinematic Universe this means getting on board a prison transport plane alongside a clutch of the most dangerous men in the country, being transferred to a new supermax security prison.
And what a bunch they are – John Malkovich’s “Cyrus the Virus” Grissom, a criminal mastermind, Ving Rhames as Nathan “Diamond Dog” Jones, an ersatz Black Panther terrorist, Danny Trejo’s serial rapist Johnny “Johnny 23” Baca, Nick Chinlund’s mass murderer William “Billy Bedlam” Bedford and most threatening and intimidating of all, checks notes, Steve Buscemi (?) as Garland “The Marietta Mangler” Greene.
As you’d expect with character list that sounds like a WWE roster, fighting soon breaks out, with the prisoners executing Cyrus’s master plan and taking control of the plane. Although Poe has a chance to get off the plane at a scheduled stop, he elects instead to stay on board, pretending to play along with Cryus and co while hoping to find a way to bring them to justice, and save the captive guards and his old cellmate, also on the plane, who’s in danger of lapsing into a diabetic coma. No man left behind, and all that.
He has some aid on the ground from John Cusack’s U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, in charge of the transfer and for a chunk of the film the only law enforcement official with a portion of a gorm, and latterly Transporter Chief O’Brien’s DEA agent Duncan Malloy, who has nary a gorm to his name.
Con Air is very much a film that’s cranking hard on the stupid dial, and I think everyone involved is fully aware of that. If you’re a Dogme 95 realist then there’s probably little for you in a film that raises the ridiculous bar so high I’m not sure there is a bar any more. It’s a film where John Malkovich threatens to shoot a stuffed rabbit in the head. It’s a film with a script so stupid I think it buffer overflows and comes back round to being clever again.
While a lot of Con Air is pedestrian – the action itself is fine, competent stuff but not earth shattering, it’s lent an air fun by the cast wide scenery chewing competition, probably narrowly won by everyone’s favourite madman, Nic Cage, with an accent that’s probably offensive to Alabamans and dialogue surely offensive to thinking people.
What a ludicrous film. 7.7/10.
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