So you're thinking of heading off to see Con Air? Then you should consider suspending your disbelief (preferably some-where dry), removing your brain, shoving up the volume and enjoying the best action flick since Die Hard.
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then hijack is one best served piping hot, with loads of popcorn, a huge audience and enough annoying people who cheer and clap at the best bits to ensure you realise everyone's having fun. Essentially devoid of critical merit (and all the better for it), Con Air kicks ass because it's mostly big, brash and bold enough to jolly you along from one dramatic payoff to the next without ever affording you enough breathing space to register what a pile of daft old tosh it really all is.
It's got a ropey start though. Veteran action producer Jerry Bruckheimer clearly has a hard-on for the military, and kicks off with Cameron Poe - our heroic soldier boy - being told Rangers never leave a man behind. Remember that.
Tacked on is one further appalling slice of exposition - Poe and wife, the fatal fight, the prison years. Actually, the last bit is kind of funny. It's basically Nic Cage, in a cell, waiting for his hair to grow while learning origami and doing hand-stand press-ups. We learn he's Sgt Rock in the hard-man department and that he's got one friend - Baby-O. Remember that.
But then follow more introductions: US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) as the man responsible for the Con Air plane and guard Sally Bishop as the soon-to-be hostage in distress. Then, as you watch, an ensemble cast of transvestites, crazies, and drug barons are all wheeled past the camera like a crims parade. Zzz....
In a better cut version, this first 15 minutes would have been told in chunks between the opening credits, and the film proper would have begun with the excellent hijacking of the plane. It's only once Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) and Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) are in control that the whole bang-shoot finally lurches into gear, and thankfully never really stops moving until just before the end .
To go into details would be a crime, as the "plot" doesn't hold much water and even a single revealed fact would spoil it. But the jokes work in a peculiar action movie way ("I once drove through three states wearing a girl's head as a hat") and the action sequences are stunning. The cross country flight of the plane and pursuers is fun, as are Poe's attempts to halt the evil doers. You're only ever two steps ahead of the plot at any time, which ain't too bad for this sort of thing.
Conceptually, the film's about 40 per cent Die Hard and 60 per cent Speed, with an uneasy alliance, à la Die Hard, fostered between Cusack on the outside and Cage on the inside, while fellow plane-bound hostages Baby-O and Sally Bishop serve the same role as Speed's bus passengers. Like Die Hard, there's lots of Poe creeping about (pretending he's one of the lifers rather than a parolee), and like Speed, the sparse plot could easily be recreated with a box of Tonka toys - helicopters, sports cars, motorbikes, planes, fire engines......
Sadly, West can't resist that one-last-pop phenomena where, after dazzling you with stunts for an entire film, he tries to do it all again in the last six minutes. If you thought Speed was ruined by the train sequence, leave after Con Air's bumpy Las Vegas landing, as deja vu time's acoming.
No surprises about who wins or dies, then, or who smooches who, although there's a shock as to who escapes. Terrific effects and no Oscar nominations among the actors. But who cares, it's still great.
So you're wondering why Poe doesn't get off the airplane at the first stop and go home to snog wifey? Well, Baby-O needs an insulin shot and Sally Bishop needs to be protected from serial rapist Johnny 23. And Rangers never leave a man behind, remember? You see - eventually the reasoning for that crap start becomes more than apparent.