Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Simon West|
|Produced by||Jerry Bruckheimer|
|Written by||Scott Rosenberg|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|115 minutes (theatrical), 123 minutes (extended)|
|Box office||$224 million|
Con Air is a 1997 American action thriller film directed by Simon West, written by Scott Rosenberg, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The film stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich, with Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Dave Chappelle, Rachel Ticotin, Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund, Jesse Borrego, Jose Zuniga, and Monica Potter in supporting roles.
Con Air 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. The film received mixed reviews, but praised Cage and the cast performances as well as its action sequences, stunts and Malkovich's portrayal of the villain. The film borrows its title from the nickname of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.
Honorably discharged Army Ranger sergeant Cameron Poe returns home to his pregnant wife Tricia after a series of combat deployments. However, he is sentenced to ten years in prison for inadvertently killing a drunken man – one of three who tried to attack him and Tricia. While in prison, Poe communicates with Tricia and his newborn daughter Casey through letters; eight years later, he is paroled and boards a flight to Alabama on board the Jailbird, a Fairchild C-123 Provider converted into a flying prison transport. Poe is accompanied by his diabetic cellmate and friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell, who is being transferred. The flight is overseen by U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, who is approached by DEA agents Duncan Malloy and Willie Sims, the latter planning to go undercover to get information from drug lord Francisco Cindino, who is to be picked up en route.
A number of inmates are being transferred to a new supermax prison, including mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford, serial rapist John "Johnny 23" Baca, Black Guerrilla Family member Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones, and criminal mastermind "Cyrus the Virus" Grissom. After taking off, affable inmate Joe "Pinball" Parker incites a riot as a distraction, releasing Grissom and Diamond Dog who lead the takeover of the plane. The hijacking inmates plot to land at Carson Airport as scheduled, pick up and transfer other prisoners, and then fly to a non-extradition country. Sims tries to take control of the plane, but Grissom kills him. Poe and Grissom also foil Johnny 23's rape attempts on the plane's only female guard, Sally Bishop, due to Grissom's vocal hatred of rapists.
The plane arrives at Carson City as scheduled and the inmate exchange commences, with the ground crew unaware that the hijackers are disguised as guards. As the transfer begins, most of the plane's guards and the pilot are forced to pose as inmates and conveyed off the plane. Amongst the new passengers are Cindino, new pilot Earl "Swamp Thing" Williams, and serial killer Garland Greene, who is feared by many inmates. The authorities discover the hijacking upon finding evidence in Grissom's old cell and a tape recorder placed with the disguised guards by Poe, but are unable to stop the plane from taking off. Meanwhile, Pinball, sent by the inmates to dispose of the plane's transponder to keep it from being detected, tries but fails to make it back to the hijacked plane.
The inmates plan to land at Lerner Airport, an abandoned airstrip in the desert, and transfer onto another plane owned by Cindino and his cartel. Poe finds Pinball's corpse trapped in the landing gear, writing a message to the U.S. Marshals on the body before throwing it out. Larkin learns of the news and heads out to Lerner after contacting the National Guard. Bedford, raiding the cargo, discovers Poe's identity when he reads his parole letter and finds a toy bunny Poe intends to give to his daughter, forcing Poe to kill him.
The Jailbird is grounded at Lerner, with no sign of the transfer aircraft. Poe warns the other inmates of Cindino's past acts of deceit and betrayal, and thus Grissom orders the others to fuel up the plane and get it ready for takeoff. Poe leaves to find Baby-O a syringe to give him insulin, meeting Larkin and informing him of the situation. The duo discover Cindino planning to escape on a hidden private jet, with Larkin sabotaging it as it takes off. Grissom executes Cindino by igniting the crashed plane's fuel. Meanwhile, Johnny 23, assigned as the sentry in the control tower, spots a National Guard convoy approaching and gives the alarm. The inmates quickly find a cache of fully loaded shotguns and M-16 rifles in the plane's cargo hold (originally assigned to guards) and prepare an ambush. As the National Guardsmen arrive, the inmates launch an assault; some are killed, but Larkin defends the surviving troops using a bulldozer as a makeshift shield. Several inmates are killed, and the rest flee back onto the Jailbird and take flight.
Poe's identity is revealed when Bedford's body is found. Grissom is about to execute him and Baby-O when Larkin and Malloy arrive in attack helicopters, launching machine gun fire at it and damaging the Jailbird's fuel tank. Though Larkin orders the plane to land at McCarran International Airport, Swamp Thing is forced to land it on the Las Vegas Strip, causing mass destruction and killing Johnny 23. Cyrus, Diamond Dog, and Swamp Thing escape on a fire truck, pursued by Poe and Larkin on police motorcycles. The chase leads to the deaths of all three escapees, with Cyrus killed by a pile driver that crushes his head. As the rest of the other convicts are quickly re-apprehended, Poe and Larkin form a friendship, just as Tricia and Casey arrive. Poe meets his daughter for the first time and gives her the toy rabbit he bought for her.
The only criminal unaccounted for is Garland Greene, who gambles at an undisclosed casino and is now apparently reformed.
- Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe
- John Cusack as Vince Larkin
- John Malkovich as Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom
- Steve Buscemi as Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene
- Ving Rhames as Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones
- Colm Meaney as DEA agent Duncan Malloy
- Danny Trejo as Johnny "Johnny 23" Baca
- M. C. Gainey as Earl "Swamp Thing" Williams
- Nick Chinlund as William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford
- Dave Chappelle as Joe "Pinball" Parker
- Mykelti Williamson as Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell
- Jesse Borrego as Francisco Cindino
- Rachel Ticotin as Guard Sally Bishop
- Steve Eastin as Guard Falzon
- Angela Featherstone as Ginny
- Monica Potter as Tricia Poe
- Landry Allbright as Casey Poe
- Renoly Santiago (credited as "Renoly") as Ramon "Sally-Can't Dance" Martinez
- Powers Boothe as Officer at Leaving Ceremony (uncredited)
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, where it 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 in the crash.
Aircraft used in the film
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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|
|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 55% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.67/10, based on 65 reviews. The consensus reads, "Con Air won't win any awards for believability – and all involved seem cheerfully aware of it, making some of this blockbuster action outing's biggest flaws fairly easy to forgive." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 52 out of 100, sampled from 23 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert, reviewing the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded it 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, 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 (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester) at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost 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.
In popular media
In the webcomic Homestuck, the character John Egbert is a fan of the film, and there are numerous references to Con Air throughout the story. This includes published covers of the song "How Do I Live".
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 criticized the high price of the DVD for its lack of bonus content.
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- Sno Balls, Movie and Television References
- 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.
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- "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.
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- Travers, Peter. "Con Air." Rolling Stone, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
- Time Out New York, June 5–12, 1997, p. 67
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- Wilson, John. "1997 Archive." Archived October 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Golden Raspberry Awards. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
- "How Do I Live (Bunny Back in the Box Version)". Bandcamp. What Pumpkin Studios LLC. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
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