Amid (now-dashed) rumours that Nic Cage is set to join The Expendables cast for their third outing, we look at perhaps his most defining role…
If he’d had the good fortune to live long enough, Mahatma Gandhi’s most memorable line would’ve been “Western civilisation? It’s fantastic; gave us Con Air.”
Nicolas Cage IS a hairpiece who returns from doing army only to be goaded by How Do I Live Without You into defending his pregnant wife’s honour. A man dies in slow motion, in the rain. Hairpiece is then screwed over by his lawyer – a scruffy, less manly hairpiece who looks like he has personal hygiene problems – and sentenced to a decade in prison.
Sentence served, our hairpiece, now a fully grown out and grown up mullet, is due for release to see his daughter for the first time, like, ever. First though, he must fly aboard a plane stocked with a motley assortment of rambunctious miscreants including John Malkovich on scenery chewing form, some extras, a photogenic prison worker (Rachel Ticotin) and his diabetic bezzy mate, Baby-O (Mykelty Williamson). Malkovich and Ving “They’re talking to Denzel for the movie” Rhames, get their hijacking on; Cage’s hairpiece spurns the chance to save himself and instead saves the day.
Sadly, at no point does anyone utter the phrase “Baby-O…dear”.
That’s a minor quibble, for other than that frankly unforgiveable oversight, Con Air is literal…figuratively flawless. The plot is clearly more the work of sudden inspiration rather than sustained perspiration, and that’s putting it as nicely as one possibly can.
The dialogue speaks for itself – a poorly reheated soup of clichés, bad cod-psychology and half-remembered lines from other films. You hope that some of it is ad-libbed but you suspect it was faithfully acted out the way it was written.
The action, especially towards the end, is clearly the work of a hyper-stimulated little boy with access to a closet full of fireworks and a team of stuntmen with nothing left to live for.
And How Do I Live Without You is the best thing about the soundtrack. I’ll leave you to let that sink in.
And yet and yet and yet: Nicolas Cage. John Malkovich. Ving Rhames. John Cusack. Danny Trejo. Steve Buscemi. Colm Meaney. Dave Chappelle. And Monica Potter, who never quite hit the heights of her illustrious co-stars.
One ought not rhapsodise about the genius of Jerry Bruckheimer. But even still, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
The rage of Cage, the Twitter-precursor corpse messaging, Buscemi’s discourse on the semantics of insanity, “Si!!!…” “Anara.” and the cigarette close-up; Meaney’s incredible flying convertible…
And the coup de grace: “puuut duur bunneh back eeun duur boox”; Cage speaking throughout as if he’s suffered a severe head trauma.
I used to wonder whether Con Air was a spoof on the excesses of the action genre, given that it’s so awful and its cast so awesome, but I hope not. In these days of all-pervasive irony, Con Air works best if you view it as a sincere effort in all its shouty, testosterone-heavy OTT bullshit. It is of a piece with all those other moronic 90s actioners (Broken Arrow, The Rock) – the bastard children of the 80s Action Jackson genre that took far too long to die.
The difference, though, is charm.
It’s a stoopid, red setter (as in the dog) sort of charm, but it’s still pretty…um…charming. That is the only explanation for why a film so utterly devoid of merit is also so insanely rewarding.
Besides which, it’s far too good-natured to be a mean-spirited cartoon designed to mock the portion of the audience that just doesn’t get it, yeah? Put another way, it’s in an entirely different league to the pastiche of movies like Shoot ‘Em Up.
And in these dark days of sequels, remakes, reboots and the never-ending Die Hard franchise, when every identikit superhero or faceless protagonist wants to be relevant (ie grim), when every high concept demands ‘take me serious’, the world needs Con Air.
So I propose a sequel: Con Heir.
I recognise that another sequel probably isn’t the solution to too many sequels.
Cage reprises his role as he is dragged into a plot involving an old-fashioned plane hijack while attempting to vacation with his daughter (who’s grown up to be some kind of rookie special agent/cop with a fondness for revealing clothing and roundhouse kicks). He teaches her how things go down in the real world, as opposed to at the academy. Because book-learning is for dickheads.
The Expendables (sadly) exists, so the cast will be drawn from the same indy-leaning palette as the original. We want heavyweights and thesps – suggestions welcome below – and power ballads, caricatures, crap dialogue and a cameo for Denzel Washington (playing Diamond Dog in the in-flight movie within a movie, obviously).
And a bunny rabbit in a box.
I’ll leave you with Gandhi. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” I hardly think I need explain the relevance.