Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Simon West|
|Produced by||Jerry Bruckheimer|
|Written by||Scott Rosenberg|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$224 million|
Con Air is a 1997 American action film directed by Simon West, written by Scott Rosenberg, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of The Rock. The film stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich alongside Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Ving Rhames, Nick Chinlund, Jesse Borrego, Jose Zuniga, and Monica Potter.
It was released theatrically on June 6, 1997 by Touchstone Pictures and was a box office success, grossing over $224 million against a production budget of $75 million. Despite this, the film received mixed reviews from critics but praising Cage and the cast performances as well as its action sequences, stunts and the villain portrayed by Malkovich. The film also borrows its title from the nickname of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.
Honorably discharged Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is given a ten-year prison sentence on charges of manslaughter for using excessive force on a drunk man who attempted to assault his pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter). Poe is paroled eight years later, and is to be released after being flown to Alabama on the Jailbird, a C-123K transport prison aircraft. Along with Poe are several other prisoners including his diabetic cellmate and friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson), who is being transferred (but not yet paroled) with Poe. The transfer is being overseen by U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack), as the transfer includes notorious criminal mastermind Cyrus "Cyrus The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), gangster and Black Guerrilla member Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), serial rapist John "Johnny 23" Baca (Danny Trejo), and mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford (Nick Chinlund) for their transfer to a new Supermax prison. Larkin is approached at the last minute by DEA agents Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) and Willie Sims (Jose Zuniga), who ask for Sims to be brought aboard undercover as a prisoner so that he can extract more information from drug kingpin Francisco Cindino (Jesse Borrego), a prisoner that is to be picked up at Carson City, Nevada en route. Larkin agrees, unaware that Malloy has hidden a gun on Sims' body.
As the Jailbird takes off, another prisoner Joe "Pinball" Parker (Dave Chappelle) incites a riot, allowing him to set free Diamond Dog and Grissom. Grissom quickly rushes to the cockpit, killing the first officer and forcing the captain to continue to fly the aircraft. Grissom then announces the prisoners' takeover of the Jailbird and takes the prison guards hostage. Sims attempts to control the situation only to be killed by Grissom. Poe feigns cooperation with the other prisoners as they prepare to offload guards and the captain disguised as prisoners at Carson City; Poe is able to sneak a recording device Sims had onto one of the now tied up guards. The transfer proceeds, among the new prisoners are Cindino, pilot "Swamp Thing" Williams (M. C. Gainey), transvestite drug dealer Ramon "Sally Can't Dance" Martinez (Renoly Santiago), and serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi), AKA "the Marietta Mangler," whose murders make "The Manson family look like the Partridge family". Pinball takes the aircraft's transponder and plants it on a small sightseeing aircraft. Jailbird takes off before the recording device can be found, but soon afterward Larkin and Malloy are alerted to the situation, after other prison guards recognize the tied up guards.
Malloy berates Larkin for assigning incompetent guards to the transport aircraft and then chases off after the transponder, while Larkin discovers information in Grissom's cell that indicates this escape attempt has been planned with Cindino. On the Jailbird, Grissom reveals that they will be landing at Lerner Airfield, a former air base where Cindino has arranged passage for them all to a non-extradition country. Poe finds Pinball's body stuck in the landing gear, the convict not having made it back in time, and secretly writes a message to Larkin about Lerner Airfield before pushing it out of the aircraft. The body lands in the middle of Fresno, California, and Larkin is alerted, ordering the National Guard to head there while he drives to the airfield himself in Malloy's sports car.
Billy Bedlam discovers Poe's true identity after going through his personal possessions, identifying him as a parolee and former Ranger, and Poe is forced to kill Bedlam when he charges at Poe. At Lerner, the aircraft overruns the small runway and grounds itself. There is no immediate sign of Cindino's aircraft and Grissom orders the prisoners to start to dig out the plane. Poe uses the time to locate insulin shots for Baby-O, and happens upon Larkin. The two quickly brief each other on the situation as Poe has to return before suspicion is raised. Larkin encounters Cindino with his agents preparing a small jet for departure and is able to sabotage it on takeoff. Grissom realizes Cindino's deception on planning on leaving the prisoners behind and kills him by burning him with the aircraft as it explodes.
Meanwhile, Johnny 23, assigned to watch for trouble, spots the approaching National Guard and alerts the others. The prisoners equip themselves with assault rifles in the aircraft that were originally intended for corrections officers and prepare to massacre the troops in an aircraft graveyard. However, Larkin is able to save most of the troops using a bulldozer as a bullet shield, forcing the prisoners to retreat to the Jailbird and prepare for take off. Poe, after giving Baby-O his shots, tries to escape with him and a female guard who had been protecting herself from Johnny 23 aboard, but the aircraft has taken off by the time they are ready.
Poe's identity and true intent is revealed to the prisoners when Diamond Dog discovers Billy Bedlam's corpse and Poe's possessions. As Grissom wounds Baby-O and is about to kill Poe, Larkin and Malloy arrives with Bell AH-1 Cobra assault helicopters and fire upon the Jailbird, damaging its engines and draining its fuel tank. After being persuaded by Poe not to fire and Larkin revealing his identity as a parolee, Malloy joins forces. When the two order the plane to land at McCarran International Airport, Swamp Thing is forced to crash-land the in the only open paved surface nearby, the Las Vegas Strip. The aircraft causes a great deal of destruction as it skids to a stop in front of a casino. The ensuing chaos allows Grissom, Diamond Dog, and Swamp Thing to escape on a fire truck while Las Vegas police secure the area and apprehend the other prisoners. Poe and Larkin team up to chase down the trio, eventually killing all three after a high-speed chase (Diamond Dog dies after a motorcycle crashes into him, Swamp Thing is hurled through the fire truck's windshield, and Grissom is crushed by a rock pounder after the fire truck's collision with an armored van). Poe thanks Larkin and tells him he is now someone whom he can trust, and then goes to reunite with Tricia and his daughter whom he has never met.
Garland Greene's fate after the crash is revealed: he is now a free man, gambling and drinking while on a winning streak at a casino, seemingly giving up his life of crime, although it is not known whether the police later apprehend him.
The Poe Family
- Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe - the main protagonist of the film, an Army Ranger whose 10-year prison sentence resulting from a manslaughter charge of the death of a gangster attempting to assault his wife is reduced to eight years and flies to his family on board a prisoner aircraft and tries to stop the convict from escaping to freedom
- Monica Potter as Tricia Poe
- Landry Allbright as Casey Poe
- John Cusack as Vince Larkin - a U.S. Marshall who tries to retake the prisoner aircraft with Poe's help
- Colm Meaney as Duncan Malloy - an overzealous DEA agent who chooses to shoot down the plane after the death of fellow DEA agent Sims but aborts after Larkin reveals to him about Poe's identity as a parole
- Rachel Ticotin as Guard Sally Bishop - The only female guard on the flight whom Johnny 23 lusts. She remains protected by Poe
- Steve Eastin as Guard Falzon - a guard who dislikes inmates and is rescued by Poe. During the transfer of prisoners in Carson City, Poe plants Sims recorder to alert the other guards and authorities of the hijecking
- José Zúñiga as Willie Sims - A DEA agent who is sent on the flight undercover as an inmate to extract more information of Cindino. He is killed when he blows his cover and attempts to retake the plane against Poe's advice. His death causes an overzealous Duncan Malloy to have the plane shot down
- John Roselius as Skip Devers
- Jeris Lee Poindexter as Watts
- Angela Featherstone as Ginny
- John Malkovich as Cyrus Grissom (known as "Cyrus the Virus") - the main antagonist of the film, a highly intelligent (but also slightly insane) notorious criminal mastermind with charges of kidnapping, murder, robbery and extortion. Grissom is the mastermind of the plane's hijacking in the film alongside Francisco Cindino. He is killed after the fire truck crashes into an armored van wherein he lands on electric cables which explode, sending him flying to a rock pounder in a nearby construction site wherein he is crushed.
- Ving Rhames as Nathan Jones (known as "Diamond Dog") - the second main antagonist, a general in a black supremacist military group known as the Black Guerillas, convicted of blowing up a meeting of National Rifle Association members on claims that they represented the basest negativity of the white race. He authored a book titled "Reflections in a Diamond Eye" during his incarceration which was reviewed by the New York Times as "a wake-up call for the black community" and attracted the attention of Hollywood for a film production, with the possibility of starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Killed when a police motorcycle crashes on him during the fire truck chase.
- Mykelti Williamson as Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell - Poe's friend, being transferred.
- Danny Trejo as Johnny Baca (known as "Johnny 23") - another of the film's secondary antagonists, a serial rapist who wears a string of heart tattoos for each rape conviction. During the film's course he attempts to rape the only female guard on the plane, Sally Bishop, but is stopped by both Grissom and Poe, both who have a mutual disgust for rapists. Killed at the plane crash in Las Vegas after a propeller breaks from the engines and cuts through the plane, separating his tattooed arm
- Dave Chappelle as Joe Parker (known as "Pinball")
- Nick Chinlund as William Bedford (known as "Billy Bedlam") - a mass murderer facing eight consecutive life sentences after being convicted of murdering his wife's family after catching her in an adulterous relationship. He is killed by Poe after he investigates the latter's belongings and finds the parole letter and the gift.
- Steve Buscemi as Garland Greene (known as "The Marietta Mangler") - a soft-spoken serial killer feared by most of the inmates due to his murders of close to thirty individuals along the eastern coast of the United States. During the Lerner Airfield rendezvous, Greene, having wandered away from the airfield, befriends a girl (who remains unharmed) who lives nearby. She teaches him the song He's Got The Whole World In His Hands, which he then sings during the plane crash scene. The film ends with him on a winning streak in a casino, seemingly cured.
- M. C. Gainey as Earl Williams (known as "Swamp Thing") - a Vietnam War veteran convicted of landing a plane full of controlled substances. He becomes the plane's pilot during the transfer and is killed during the Las Vegas chase after Larkin floods the firetruck with water and the former is hurled from the windshield and is crushed
- Jesse Borrego as Francisco Cindino - a drug baron who is the chief mastermind of the convicts' escape which he planned with Grissom. He is killed after he betrays Grissom by trying to escape on his own with his henchmen on a private plane which is sabotaged by Larkin
- Renoly Santiago as Ramon Martinez (known as "Sally Can't Dance") - a transvestite drug dealer convict from Carson city
- Brendan Kelly as Conrad - one of the convicts from Carson City
- John Marshall Jones as "Gator"
- Don S. Davis as Man driving Volvo
- Dabbs Greer as Old Man under Truck
- Chris Ellis as Grant
With second-unit work beginning on June 24, 1996, principal photography began shortly after at Salt Lake City, on July 1, 1996 and continued until October 29, 1996, at a number of locations. While most of the interiors of the Fairchild C-123 Provider transport aircraft were filmed in Hollywood Center Studios soundstage #7, Wendover Airport in Utah, as the stand in for the fictional Lerner Airfield, was used for the C-123 flying and taxi scenes. Director Simon West chose the barren and remote Wendover area "because it looked like the surface of the moon ... My idea was that it was perfect for the convicts who had been locked up for 10, 20, 30 years in little cells." The old wartime bomber base was also used for the aircraft boneyard scenes while the original swimming pool at the base was used in a scene where Garland Greene was talking to a young girl.
On August 29, 1996, Phillip Swartz, a welder employed by Special Effects Unlimited, a Los Angeles-based firm, was crushed to death at Wendover when a static model of the C-123 used in the film, fell on him. The film credits end with "In Memory of Phil Swartz". After filming, the filmmakers donated the Jailbird movie model used for the taxi scenes to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation and is currently on display at the ramp as an attraction for visitors.
Other filming locations included Ogden Airport where the exchange of prisoners is seen. The scene where the aircraft's left wing hits the Fender Stratocaster sign of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the place where its premiere was held, was filmed using a remodeled guitar of the hotel and a Jailbird miniature model. The crash site was filmed in the Sands Hotel before its demolition on November 26, 1996. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer found the right spot for the climactic finale, originally planned for a crash at the White House, but Las Vegas was more in keeping with the dichotomy of convicts "cashing in." "We got very lucky ... The Sands was going to be demolished anyway. They blew up the tower on their own. We arranged to blow up the front of the building." The 2nd Street Tunnel in Los Angeles was also used for the tunnel chase scene near the end of the film.
The Jailbird movie model used during flight scenes in the film had a series of both military and private owners. In December 2003 it was sold to All West Freight Inc. in Delta Junction, Alaska. On August 1, 2010, the C-123 was destroyed when it crashed into Mount Healy within Denali National Park in Alaska. The three member flight crew was killed during the crash.
Aircraft used in the film
Along with using several highly detailed models at 1/15th scale, and a multitude of military and private aircraft assembled for the desert boneyard scene,[Note 1] the following aircraft were prominently featured in Con Air:
- Beechcraft Model 18, no serial numbers visible, painted as "Uncle Bob's Scenic Tours" in scene at Wendover Airport, has the transponder planted on it.
- Bell 206B JetRanger III (two helicopters, one marked N5739V), seen at DEA headquarters.
- Bell AH-1F Cobra (two helicopters painted in military camouflage, one with "022734" visible on tail), used by Malloy to track the transponder-equipped aircraft and later catch the Jailbird.
- Bell UH-1D Huey (helicopter painted in military camouflage), used by Malloy to track the transponder-equipped aircraft.
- Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight (serial number unknown) seen briefly in Army Ranger rescue scene.
- Cessna 150F (unknown markings), lands at "Lerner Airfield" in midst of the landing of the Jailbird.
- Fairchild C-123K Provider N709RR (ex-USAF 54-0709, MSN#20158), used for the flying sequences (crashed after filming).
- Fairchild C-123K Provider N94DT (ex-USAF 54-0706, MSN#20155), used for crash scene in Las Vegas (scrapped after filming) [Note 2].
- Fairchild C-123K Provider, painted as "N709RR", (ex-USAF 56-4361), used for static and taxi scenes at Wendover (left at Wendover Airport).
- North American 75A Sabreliner (serial number "HK-723"), used for Cindino's escape.
- Rockwell Aero Commander 500, seen in the hangar at Wendover Airport.
- Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion (serial number unknown) seen briefly in Army Ranger rescue scene.
|Con Air: Music from the Motion Picture|
|Soundtrack album by Trevor Rabin, Mark Mancina|
|Released||June 17, 1997|
|Producer||Paul Linford, Mark Mancina, Trevor Rabin|
The Con Air soundtrack album omits two songs featured in the film: "How Do I Live", written by Diane Warren and performed by Trisha Yearwood and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although a key element of the film, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, "The soundtrack kicks into loud, obtrusive gear ... (and) remains so loud throughout the picture that it practically functions as a distancing device."
- "Con Air Theme" – 1:34
- "Trisha" – 1:04
- "Carson City" – 3:05
- "Lear Crash" – 4:44
- "Lerner Landing" – 3:28
- "Romantic Chaos" – 1:23
- "The Takeover" – 3:52
- "The Discharge" – 1:09
- "Jailbirds" – 0:59
- "Cons Check Out Lerner" – 1:56
- "Poe Saves Cops" – 2:25
- "The Fight" – 0:23
- "Battle In The Boneyard" – 7:41
- "Poe Meets Larkin" – 1:16
- "Bedlam Larkin" – :49
- "Fire Truck Chase" – 4:22
- "Overture" – 4:19
The film holds a 54% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 5.7/10 based on 63 reviews. On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 52 out of 100, sampled from 22 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews." Roger Ebert awarded the film three out of four stars, saying it "moves smoothly and with visual style and verbal wit." Janet Maslin, reviewer for The New York Times considered Con Air an exemplar of the "thrill ride genre."  In contrast, Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers decried the "flip, hip" and ultimately, "depressing ... pandering" present in the treatment. Andrew Johnston (critic), reviewer for Time Out New York stated: "Leaving The Rock last summer, I thought it seemed physically impossible for a more over-the-top action movie to be made. That was pretty short-sighted of me, since it was only a matter of time until producer Jerry Bruckheimer topped himself as he does with the wildly entertaining Con Air."
Awards and honors
Con Air was nominated for Best Original Song (for "How Do I Live") and Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester) at the 70th Academy Awards, losing to Titanic in both categories.
Conversely, the film won the Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property" at the 18th Golden Raspberry Awards. "How Do I Live" was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Razzie Award Worst Original Song, but won neither.
An unrated extended edition of the film was released on DVD on May 15, 2006. Jason Morgan of Cinemablend.com gave the film 1 star out of 5, claiming the added scenes slowed down the film, and criticizing the high price of the DVD as it featured no bonus content.
- A Convair C-131 Samaritan transport aircraft and Piasecki H-21 helicopter were prominent among the scattered wreckage of the boneyard scene.
- There were two non-flying prop aircraft, the static model used in the filming of the aircraft crashing into the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino guitar sign and another static model that crushed Philip Swartz at Wendover.
- Walt Disney Motion Picture Group (who owns Touchstone Pictures) chose Rimes' version but thought the version had too much of pop feeling, with Trisha Yearwood's version used instead. Both versions were released on May 27, 1997.
- "Con Air (15)". British Board of Film Classification. May 22, 1997. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
- "Con Air. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: April 23, 2015.
- "Con Air (1997): Miscellaneous notes." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
- Rigoulot, Leslie. "Con Air: About The Production." Film Scouts, 2008. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
- Girod, Russell W. "Con Air: About The Locations." Touchstone Pictures & Five Star Publishing,1997. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
- Bateman 2004, p. 248.
- "Plane Crushes Worker on Disney Film Set." Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1996. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
- "Accident Report: Fairchild C-123K Provider, August 1, 2010." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
- Rettig, Molly. "Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site; victims identified." newsminer.com, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
- "Authorities identify victims of Alaska "Con Air"-movie plane crash." BNO News, August 3, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
- van der Voet, Aad. "C-123 Providers starring in 'Con Air'." oldwings.nl, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
- "Probe starts into deadly crash at Denali." Anchorage Daily News via adn.com, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
- "Dave Chappelle On Inside The Actors Studio." Inside the Actors Studio, February 12, 2006. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
- "Con Air." The Internet Movie Plane Database. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
- Ankeny, Jason. "Mark Mancina / Trevor Rabin: Con Air [Music from the Motion Picture]". AllMusic.com. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
- "Leann Rimes, Music: How Do I Live / My Baby." Amazon.com. Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
- LaSalle, Mick. "Con Job: Nicolas Cage drives his newest action vehicle into a wall, where it explodes." San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
- "Con Air (1997)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
- "Con Air (1997)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
- "Con Air ." Metacritic. Retrieved: September 20, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger. "Con Air Review." Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1997.
- Maslin, Janet. "Signs and Symbols on a Thrill Ride: Con Air (1997)." The New York Times, June 6, 1997.
- Travers, Peter. "Con Air." Rolling Stone, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
- Time Out New York, June 5–12, 1997, p. 67
- Lesnick, Silas. "Exclusive: Director Simon West on 'The Mechanic' on remaking the 1972 film and how he'd love to do a sequel to 'Con Air'." craveonline.com, January 24, 2011. Retrieved: March 29, 2012.
- "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners." Oscars.org. Retrieved: December 18, 2011.
- Wilson, John. "1997 Archive." Golden Raspberry Awards. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
- Morgan, Jason (2006). "Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition". Cinemablend.com. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- "Con Air Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. n.d. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
- Bateman, Ronald R. Wendover Wings of Change: A History. Wendover, Utah: Ronald R. Bateman, 2004. ISBN 0-9745983-2-1.
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