So after Nicolas Cage found a great deal of box office success in 1996's The Rock, he presumably went back to the film's producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and said "Give me something else like that!", so Bruckheimer dusted off a script for him which is conceptually like The Rock in terms of volume and general audacity, but this one never got the Criterion treatment. And, for what it's worth, for pretty good reason.
Con Air was written by Scott Rosenberg, one of the driving forces behind the current ABC show October Road, and directed by Simon West (When A Stranger Calls). Cage plays Cameron Poe, a Gulf War veteran and Ranger, who was discharged and returns home to meet his wife Tricia (Monica Potter, Saw). Tricia's tending bar and some rowdy locals come onto her, even after they see Cameron. The heckling continues and becomes violent, culminating in the death of one of them, so Cameron's convicted and imprisoned for it. He does his time and is paroled, but when he flies home on a cargo plane with several other, more violent criminals, and the plane is hijacked by them, he's faced with a bit of a dilemma.
One thing's for sure, the film's peppered with all kinds of people that you'll recognize, some who should be in action films, others that are a surprise. A U.S. Marshal is following the flight and trying to figure out what's going onboard the plane, and he realizes that Poe might be on his side. The Marshall is played by John Cusack (One Crazy Summer), and just to see him around gunplay plays as a little bit strange. Even stranger is the film's main villain, Cyrus Grissom, nicknamed "The Virus" because it rhymes and is supposed to be creative, but John Malkovich as the bad guy? Considering his previous films, it looks like he's doing nothing more than channeling his work from In the Line of Fire. One of the other villains is played by Dave Chappelle, long before the Africa trips and Rick James sketches. In between these appearances, Cage is apparently channeling Elvis (if Elvis had done some sit-ups and push-ups instead of downing fried lard sticks for breakfast) and in the film's nearly two hour runtime, the thing is choked full of clichéd dialogue, bordering on boring.
Now I know what you're saying; Ryan, you've seen The Rock and that has stupid dialogue and comical explosions, critically acclaimed actors and an excessive length and you didn't seem to mind that, so what's the deal? Well you know, there might not be a lot of difference between the two films, but where The Rock featured characters you were invested in and could care about, Con Air takes the characters and throws them into the circumstance and makes the same assumption, but leaves the actors' work of doing the convincing at the door. Some of them do try, but there's not the same sympathy you have for a bunch of criminals with one-liners, which happens here, as opposed to people devoted to their cause, whatever it might be, and have that cause forsake them. You can't just get warm and gooey with criminals as much as you can with old soldiers, like it or not. And that's the flaw of Con Air.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Compared to just looking at The Rock recently and not having seen this film in forever, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation of Con Air is sharp and the level of detail on the tight close-ups is good. However, the Vegas desert looks like it possesses some noise and the image tends to be flat a little more often than not. It's a sharp picture, don't get me wrong, but it's just not as strong as the other Cage slam-bang action film that's already out on Blu-ray.
Con Air was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound, and the PCM soundtrack certainly brings the goods. A lot of bangs and booms possess the required subwoofer "oomph" that you'd expect, and this track is more for its power than it is any real immersion or surround activity, even though it's present. I'd suggest that some of the soundtrack sounds a little bit unbalanced in the dialogue area, but it's a minor complaint.
Unlike The Rock, Con Air has been devoid of any real decent special features, no matter what the incarnation, which is a bummer. "A View From Above" contains about five minutes of interviews with the cast and crew as they talk about the film, and then the "Destruction of Las Vegas" is a visual effects look at just that, with a breakdown of the money shots. The film's trailer, in full frame no less, is next, but you've also got the Disney "Movie Showcase" section that shows off high definition audio and video in specified scenes.
While technically the disc has got a few things going for it, artistically Con Air winds up being just a long, silly kind of film with a bunch of explosions every so often. If you've got the standard definition copy, the upgrade is probably worth your while, but if you haven't seen this film, you might want to rent it before pulling the trigger on buying it anytime soon.