CON AIR: Blu-Ray (Hollywood Pictures 1997) Buena Vista Home Entertainment
It has been said Hollywood does not have an original idea in its collective brain trust. Not true. Rather, today, the bean counters have taken over from the creatives, and the result has been ‘more of the same’ with a rather abysmal shortsightedness, declaring ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There is nothing wrong with sequels – I suppose, rechristened in the post-post-modern generation as ‘franchise film-making’. Clones is an entirely different matter. Neither should ever be considered the norm in the industry or the results will be…well, we’ve all seen what the results are – not good. Copy-cat film-making is a snore. True enough, once Tinsel Town latches onto a winning plot it tends to embrace formulaic film-making over originality – ostensibly, because the industry requires some evidence that what they are pouring their moneys into will reap even greater dividends in return. In the old days, the studios used to put their faith is ‘star power’ – the name above the title drawing in the crowds. As such, originality could be explored more readily because it was the star the public was paying to see. So, mining ‘personalities’ was more important than ‘genre’ film-making. This too gave ‘the stars’ reason to hope for their own longevity. So long as they made money, they had a career.
Regrettably, with the implosion of the ‘star system’ at the end of the 1950’s, 'personalities' were left to fend for themselves on a picture-by-picture basis. While some, like Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Peter O’Toole survived this dearth on sheer talent alone, thus continuing the myth that ‘stars’ could still be made from diamonds in the rough, the mentality today is that a person is either a ‘star’ immediately out of the gate or they are not. Thus, the longevity of a ‘star’s career’ today is distilled into only a handful of profit-driven pictures – if that. And Hollywood, well aware that the stream of young hopefuls, yearly to flood through their front offices, can provide them with a momentary ‘hit maker’, cares nothing for actually cultivating ‘stars’ for decades or even a few sensible years of good use. They merely require a warm body, good-looking and relatively competent as an actor to plug-and-play right now to recoup their investments. So, ostensibly, the star has become inconsequential. Alas, this also means, without the cache of instant notoriety to anchor their performances and draw the public in on their name value alone, the movies themselves must sacrifice a level of originality in order to set-up the public’s fascination with the product in other ways. Forgettable ‘stars’ – pre-sold titles. So, we get remakes, sequels, prequels, reboots – ‘franchise film-making’, to give the public what it wants until both its level of artistry and the proverbial ‘horse’ have been officially beaten to death. Once the franchise is over, so are 'the stars' careers.
Unequivocally, Michael Bay has made a career from making the same movie over and over again. On the heels of Bay's The Rock (1996) came a spate of like-minded action/thrillers put forth by Bay and a litany of other directors rushing to keep up with more blood lust and epic carnage, intent on stealing at least part of Bay's thunder for this sub-genre: pot boiler pulp-fiction cinema. Regrettably, few movies to have followed The Rock came anywhere near matching Bay's skill for slick storytelling, thereby hastening audiences’ premature exhaustion for the witless summer blockbuster. Of this latter ilk, director, Simon West's Con Air (1997) remains the most transparent poster child - a dirty, harrowing and largely implausible bloated actioner that plays more like a poorly conceived homage to the Michael Bay school of picture-making. The movie stars Nicholas Cage, this time as U.S. Army Ranger, Cameron Poe. A decorated military hero of Desert Storm, Poe is assaulted by three drunkards while escorting his pregnant wife, Tricia (Monica Potter) for a night on the town. In the ensuing struggle, Poe employs his military training to subdue his attackers, but accidentally kills one of them. He is convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in a Federal penitentiary.
Paroled eight years later, Poe is being flown to freedom on 'the Jailbird'; a C-123 plane along with other prisoners, including serial rapist/murder, Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) who are slated to be transferred to a new Supermax prison. DEA agent, Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) encourages U.S. Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack) to allow an undercover agent aboard the Jailbird to bleed information from one of the prisoners, drug lord, Francisco Cindino (Jesse Borrego) before his incarceration. Unhappy chance for Poe, the prisoners led by resident psychotic, Cyrus 'the Virus' Grissom (John Malkovich) gain control of the plane. The Jailbird is hijacked and flown to Carson City where Cyrus poses as a guard while another prisoner, Joe Pinball Parker (David Chappelle) smuggles its transponder onto a private touring plane to divert authorities from tracking their flight. Poe manages too late to alert authorities of this hijacking and Malloy, unaware the transponder is no longer aboard the Jailbird, orders a helicopter strike on the innocent tourist plane instead. Meanwhile, Cyrus and Poe discover Parker did not make it back to the Jailbird before takeoff. His body is wedged in the Jailbird's landing gear, thereby threatening the safety of their escape.
While pretending to befriend Cyrus by freeing Parker's corpse from the Jailbird's landing gear, Poe manages to attach a message to Parker's lapel detailing Cyrus' escape. Recovering Parker's body and the note, Larkin, realizes Poe is on his side and takes his cue to follow the Jailbird to Lerner Airfield for an ambush. At Lerner, Poe befriends one of the prisoners, Mike O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson) who is a diabetic. Securing insulin to save his life, Poe and O'Dell strike up a friendship. Meanwhile, Cyrus cannot understand why the escape plane promised by Cindino has failed to materialize. While skulking about the abandoned air strip, Larkin and Poe are briefly united, sharing information about Cyrus' plans. Larkin discovers that Cindino's escape plans were never to include Cyrus or the other prisoners. Seeing Cindino about to make his getaway aboard a small private jet, Larkin thwarts the departure by using a crane to rip the tail section off his plane. Learning of Cindino's treason, Cyrus finishes the job by blowing up the remainder of Cindino's plane with Cindino inside.
The National Guard arrives on the scene. However, in the resulting hailstorm of bullets, Cyrus manages to escape with Poe and Mike still trapped inside the Jailbird. Suspecting Poe to be the informant, Cyrus threatens to kill him. Mike accepts the blame and Cyrus shoots him first. However, as Cyrus takes aim at Poe for his part in the espionage, the National Guard opens fire on the Jailbird, puncturing its fuel tank and forcing Poe to make an emergency landing on the Las Vegas strip. In the absurdly contrived last act, the ensuing carnage and glittering destruction of many a Vegas landmark, Poe makes an emergency landing in front of the Sands Hotel. However, Cyrus and two other prisoners escape capture. Larkin and Poe pursue them on motorcycle and eventually hunt down and kill Cyrus. At long last, the bedraggled Poe is reunited with Tricia and Casey (Landry Allbright) - the daughter he has never seen. As if to end the movie on a comedic high note, in the final moments, a seemingly reformed Garland Greene is seen seated at a high-stakes craps table inside the Sands, living the life of a successful Vegas gambler.
On several levels, Con Air is not a particularly engaging entertainment. The movie’s pluses add up to the chemistry and interaction between this desperate assortment of reprobates, culled from an A-list gallery of rogues with Cage cast as the wronged man among this ugly lot of villains. On occasion, dialogue between these warring factions can be crisp. However, as the narrative winds its way to an inevitable conclusion, profanity replaces prose to get the points across. At least casting is up to snuff, with Cage, Cusack and Malkovich all lending authenticity to their roles. Regrettably, Scott Rosenberg's screenplay is a mess of clichés. Seemingly having seen far too many like-minded actioners, Rosenberg has thrown virtually every tired and careworn bit of nonsense at the camera. In effect, he paint-balls the audience with his claptrap of regurgitated snippets excised from other movies. Yes - the picture moves like gangbusters, but not necessarily in a forward direction, instead becoming a noisy maelstrom, swirling around and around, desperately in search of its denouement. Con Air will have its fans - but arguably, they could find much better ways to satisfy their blood lust for the mindless actioner.
Buena Vista's Blu-Ray easily bests its pathetic non-anamorphic standard DVD released in 1998. Owing to Blu-Ray's superior bit rate, color fidelity and fine details take a quantum leap forward. Contrast is excellent. The image is razor-sharp without hinting at any signs of untoward digital tinkering. No DNR either, so no waxy images. Whew! Colors, though true to life, seem to lack that pronounced 'wow' factor we have grown accustomed to seeing on Blu-Ray. Flesh tones are accurately realized. A light smattering of film grain looks indigenous to its source. Overall, nothing to complain about here. As for the audio, it remains a 5.1 Dolby Digital rather than full DTS. That said, it features a fairly aggressive base for the action sequences, and clearly delineated dialogue. A few short featurettes, including one detailing the destruction of Vegas sequence, round out your viewing enjoyment.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)