Con Air (Unrated Extended Cut) Review

When a war hero, US Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) returns home from duty to see his wife, he's set upon by three drunks, one of whom he kills in self-defence. Sentenced to eight years in prison, Poe serves his time but refuses to let his wife and daughter visit, saying that under no account will she see her father in prison. Those eight years pass slowly but eventually they do and Poe receives notice of his parole, leaving prison on the bus with his cell mate and only friend Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson) to catch a flight home.

As Poe boards the prison plane, he joins some of the most dangerous criminals in US prison history, who are being transported to a maximum security facility. Joining Poe are Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), Johnny 23 (Daniel Trejo) and psychosexual serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) as well as a DEA agent, who's armed. As Grissom and Diamond Dog escape from confinement, they take over the plane and order the pilot to take them to remote Carson Airfield. As prison security officer Vince Larkin (John Cusack) and DEA agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) look to bring their plane back in, so Cyrus announces a new age in travel as he steps forward and takes command of the plane with a, "Welcome to Con Air!"

Apparently, this was actually directed by somebody. By one Simon West, who would go on to Tomb Raider and who is responsible for the recent remake of When A Stranger Calls. But Con Air is directed in the same way that a stag weekend is directed...loosely. The general plan for an evening in, say, Amsterdam may revolve around something to drink, a bit of dinner, more drink, a night out in a club and then a nightcap in a strip club but that's not really direction, more a sequence of events. Con Air has that same disassociation with structure as, fundamentally, shit either happens or gets blown up. There is a plot of sorts but it doesn't extend to be a great deal more than what might happen if you put a some of the criminal world's greatest minds on the same flight and simply drew some conclusions. In as much as the more pedestrian, and, sadly, yet unmade, Darby And Joan Air would feature a great many stops at remote airfields for use of the toilet, the handing round of tea and sandwiches and some nodding out of the window as the plane flew over places of interest, so Con Air has hard liquor, gunfire, rape, murder and a Colombian drug baron. It is so wantonly excessive that not even the sight of a sports car being dragged through the air by the prison plane seems out of place, with Cameron Poe summing this moment up with a, "On any other day, that might seem strange!"

That Con Air has more in common with a video game - if it moves, shoot it, otherwise blow it up regardless - is probably not an accident but Con Air takes explosiveness to its conclusion. In one sequence - the shootout in the boneyard - metal, old bits of planes, people, sand even...just blows up! Explosions happen on top of explosions. Gas tanks explode and take off through the air and material that looks to be as innocuous as rusting metal is suddenly as combustive as a litre of unleaded. And there is no reason for this...absolutely none! In terms of plot, there's simply the movement of the plane through the southern states of the US, all leading to a finale in the streets of Las Vegas, which are almost completely destroyed as the plane makes an impromptu landing on the strip.

That this all happens so breathlessly is no surprise given the extract from the minutes of the story pitch between writer Scott Rosenberg and producer Jerry Bruckheimer that has fallen into our hands here at DVD Times: *

But think of this as a comedy and Con Air is one of the most ridiculously and screamingly-pitched action movies that you can buy. Gags flow, so too does the action and everyone, from the B-list regulars like Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund and M.C. Gainey to the respected A-listers like Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi, appear to have tapped in to the kind of movie they're making. Cusack, Malkovich and Meaney are particularly good and it's surely the only movie where a head-wearing serial killer-cum-paedophile is portrayed as a sympathetic character, being one that we're happy to see on the loose as the film ends.

That, though, is the joy of the film. Where bad actors like Van Damme and Seagal take themselves awfully seriously in their threadbare action movies, Malkovich and Cusack do not, having fun in a way that Jean Claude never does. When Seagal asked in a barroom brawl in On Deadly Ground, "What does it take to change the essence of a man?", I can't have been to only one to look skywards and pray that he gets both the damn chef gear on again soon and the Zen shit of out of his system but you'll never hear such words from John Malkovich in Con Air. Yes, you'll see a transvestite killer dancing to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama - according to Garland Greene, the definition of irony, "A bunch of idiots dancing around on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash!" - and yes you'll hear Nicolas Cage threaten Nick Chinlund over the present of a bunny rabbit for his daughter. You'll even see a corpse bearing a note for Vince Larkin fall the thousands of feet from the plane to the bonnet of a car at a city intersection. And all of it without an ounce of embarrassment, leaving it a movie where you might well be a little sad to see it end the way it does. Not, you'll understand, via the near destruction of Las Vegas but by the idea of justice being served. If Garland Greene was to be celebrated at the craps table, I really can't have been the only one who would have preferred to see Poe wave farewell to Diamond Dog, Cyrus Grissom and Swamp Thing as they, Rubber Duck-like, faked their deaths and waved goodbye on their way down south. Where they could have done it all over again.


Although this probably boasts a new transfer, it's not a particularly good one, being a touch too harsh to look its very best. Colours are good and the image is stable, as you'd be right to expect, but it lacks the smoothness of the image that you might associate with DVD, leaving the edges of characters looking jagged and brittle. Oddly, a badly set-up system will leave it looking a lot better, covering up for the flaws in the picture where a direct-digital connection, for example, would not. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is much better, though, and sounds excellent, particularly in the scene in the boneyard, in the various flybys and in the final scenes in Las Vegas. The rear channels are used well, as is the subwoofer and everything sounds very good indeed.


Other than a set of trailers for other Jerry Bruckheimer Extended Editions (Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State) and for other Buena Vista theatrical and DVD releases, there are no extras.


And so what of the Unrated Extended Edition. Well, there's only one scene that stands out as an obvious addition and that's a fire early in the film that Baby-O saves Cameron Poe from and which explains the bond between them as well as a burn the length of Baby-O's forearm. As much as I can remember, that wasn't in the Theatrical Cut but, otherwise, there's very little that's obvious. Ginny (Angela Featherstone) looks to appear in more scenes than she did originally and Billy Bedlam's death may be a touch more graphic but that could well be it.

Certainly there's nothing more obvious than what has been listed and so, without extras, a DTS track or that great a picture, where is the appeal of this release? For anyone without a version of the film on disc, it's an entertaining movie but not one that could ever be classed as essential. This release is a disappointment and that it would be classified a 15 over here, it is, for all its Unrated claims, somewhat misleading.

*...may not be an actual record of the story pitch.

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