I love Con Air. Who doesn’t love Con Air? It’s a smarter movie than we give it credit for. It’s the “Don’t Stop Believin'” of 90s action cinema — a movie it is impossible to enjoy ironically. (Although DSB has more fans than Con Air.) You either like it, or you don’t. I maintain, and I stole this from my dad, that Nic Cage’s performance in this is Nic Cage doing Elvis Presley if Elvis Presley got in a time machine around the time of the comeback special, came to 1995, and instead of starting a singing career, decided to star in a Jerry Bruckheimer Production.
(We watched Hamlet 2 a few weeks back, and did you notice that Steve Coogan’s Jesus costume is EXACTLY like Nic Cage’s jeans/long hair/undershirt combo? I hope this is intentional.)
But as much as I love Con Air — and in case you hadn’t guessed, I love it a whole bunch — there is one tiny little thing about it that bugs me. And that is the geography. You hear about this all the time in screenwriting: Establish the geography and make it clear, unconfusing. Make sure your audience knows the layout and where the characters are in each scene. This movie doesn’t have a problem with that. It sets up the geography of the plane quite well, with several different locations in the plane for scenes to take place. During the action set pieces, you understand where the bad guys are and where the good guys are (and what’s a rock). It’s coherent, and it adds to the enjoyment.
Where the geography of Con Air fails, however, is the relation of one scene to the other. The two most egregious examples of this come at the start and end of the movie.
One! So Nic “Cameron Poe” Cage is going home to Alabama to say hey to his buddy Forrest Gump and his wife Trisha Poe! He gets off a boat and goes to the bar where his wife works. Not too bad — lots of bars are by the shore. But then CP gets in a bit of trouble and this regular hound dog blames him for losing Vietnam (and if he thinks that way about Nic Cage, I wonder what he would have to say to Henry Kissinger. Oh wait, he dies. Spoiler.). Later, Hound Dog tries to stab Cameron Poe. This fight happens to take place outside an oil pump. So there’s a bar. By the shore. That is also by an oil pump. I think the World Wildlife Federation would have issues with the leakage, don’t you?
Two! At the end of the movie, Nic Cage and John “Cyrus the Virus” Malkovich fight. On a moving fire truck. Cameron, being a level 5 Army Ranger and a Level 7 Convict with a “God Does Exist” modifer, bests Cyrus’s Level 17 Mass Murderer with a “Kills More Men Than Cancer” bonus and a +2 in witty puns. (It’s been a while since I played D&D, can you tell?) This whole fight takes place on the Las Vegas strip. Johnny Mack is then thrown through two plate glass windows, goes flying through the air, and lands on a conveyor belt whose sole purpose seems to be smashing rocks…and his head. Nowhere in the previous scenes does the film establish that there is demolition or construction going on along the route the fire truck is taking. There’s not even shitty ADR to explain it (see also: “It’s okay, mang, this is where they make the drugs” from Bad Boys II). I guess that you could explain it away by saying that there’s always construction going on in Las Vegas, but we both know that’s not true.
There are more examples of this littered throughout Con Air. Upon watching it this week, I went back and looked at a map to try and determine what exactly the flight pattern of the Jailbird would be, to go from outside San Quentin to Carson City to fly over a major metropolitan city so NC can drop Dave Chappelle (R.I.P. Pinball) to Learner Airfield, followed by a brief sojurn over the canyons of Arizona before stopping in Las Vegas. If anyone knows, help me out.
So that bugs me. And in the case of both the things I mentioned, it’d be an easy fix. Doesn’t need to take place outside an oil rig, Cyrus doesn’t need to have his head smashed. But the fact that it does adds to the overall ridiculousness of the movie, which is one of the reasons why I love it in the first place.
After all, it’s still a movie whose feel-good ending is an escaped serial killer getting his fruity drink and feelin’ lucky. Followed by a curtain call that wouldn’t be out of place in FAME.