Friday, 14 August 2015

Con Air

Nicholas Cage should be listed as one of America's national treasures.
There's no movie that can't be improved upon by having Nicholas Cage in the lead role.
One of those movies that did put him in the lead role is Con Air.
AKA: Crooks on a plane.
Sadly, this movie does not contain a 'Nicholas Cage freak-out', but it does include John Malkovich, so it balances out.
The film starts with what would be the ending scene for any other movie with  Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage himself) returning from service to be with his pregnant wife. But while he's dancing with his wife in the bar she works at some jerks start harassing him.
That's it, antagonise the decorated army ranger, that's a smart move.
Poe starts to get angry but his wife calms him down as the thugs leave. But when they're going to their car later the thugs return and attack Poe.
He instantly regrets that decision.
Apparently a decorated Army Ranger can't afford a decent lawyer, since he's recommended to plea guilty and get a reduced sentence. But it doesn't work and the judge sentences him to 8 years because, as an Army Ranger, he's essentially always armed and as such killing someone in self-defence equals First-Degree Manslaughter.
Is that even a thing?
Ok, to the film's credit it does show one of the thugs taking the knife, but it was still three-on-one.
I know miscarriages of justice such as this happen all the time in real life, but it still bugs me.
Anyhoo, Poe goes to jail. While inside he befriends his cellmate, a decent chap by the name of Baby-O (Or Odelle, as he is called by everyone, making the whole street nickname thing irrelevant).
This guy. What's the betting that he won't survive the movie?
Poe writes letters to his wife and reads letters she sends him. The main theme is that he can't wait to get out and meet his daughter, born shortly after his incarceration. They didn't want her first meeting with him to be in a prison's visiting room.
Eight years pass in the blink of an eye (Through the power of montage) and Poe's about to be released. Odelle expresses mild jealousy, but they both agree to have a barbecue after Odelle's release (Oh he is so dead).
But the main hiccup about Poe's release is that it's far away, so he's hitching a ride on a high-security prison plane. He'll officially be released once it reaches it's destination.
This plane, naturally, is filled with the worst criminals in the world.
But before that, we've got subplots to set up.
Such as Guard Bishop here.
There are probably three main subplots set up in this one scene and it's done rather well. Guard Bishop will be on the plane with them and she's rather nice, chatting to Poe about his daughter's 8th birthday (he got her a bunny toy). Odelle asks about his insulin and she confirms that he'll be given it in-flight.
This is really important, since it's these two characters who give Poe motivation to stay involved, even when he's given a golden chance to leave later on. A lot of movies forget to do this and just have their heroes fighting, even though they've got nothing to gain from doing so.
Kudos movie, kudos.
Elsewhere, some cops are preparing the plane when the DEA get themselves involved. Turns out that there's a very high-ranking drug dealer on board who they want answers from, but he won't talk. So the DEA want to send in an agent undercover as a crook.
And since the DEA chief is played by Colm Meaney, you know he's going to be an arsehole.
No matter how many movies he appears in, he'll always be remembered best as Miles O'Brien.
They go over the mission objectives and have a minor argument about whether his agent will be armed. The man in charge of security (Named Larkin, played by John Cusack) is adamant that no-one should be armed, but O'Brien insists that his agents are always armed.
Yeah, that won't come back to bite them in the arse at all.
They review some of the criminals on board.
First up, Toombs from Chronicles of Riddick.
Toombs plays Billy Bedlam, who's a mass-murderer.
Second, we've got Diamond Dog.
Diamond Dog was a black rights activist, until he decided to become a mass murderer.
But he will sadly be forever upstaged by the My Little Pony character.
And last but not least, Cyrus the Virus, our main baddie.
Cyrus is a mass murderer (I'm sensing a pattern) who's by far the most dangerous of the bunch.
These three criminals are placed in special cells in the plane, but everyone else gets comfy seats. O'Brien takes note of Poe, but Larkin states that he's just hitching a free ride to his release and therefor isn't worth thinking about.
As everyone sits inside the plane Cyrus notices a celebrity sitting near him, a serial rapist and murderer named Johnny 23.
Played by the uncle from Spy Kids.
Cyrus states that he despises rapists, because despite being a murderer he's not outright evil, but for Johnny he'll make an exception.
And turns into Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka for a second, which creeps me out.
Anyhoo, aboard the plane guard Falzone explains the rules. As long as everyone stays quiet they'll be no problems, but if anyone upsets him then their testicles will become his private property.
I like this guy. I doubt he'll live.
As the plane takes off Larkin and his secretary watch. She worries that it's dangerous to have so many criminals on a single plane, but Larkin assures her that nothing can possibly go wrong.
And he's the smart cop.
Naturally, everything immediately goes wrong. Diamond Dog and Cyrus somehow managed to hide lockpicks in the skin of their hands, which they use. However, they're still locked in their cells. But one of the other prisoners (Played by Dave Chapelle) managed to sneak in a tiny bottle of alcohol and a match.
The guy next to him does not approve.
He successfully creates a distraction by setting the guy next to him on fire. Guard Bishop drags Chapelle away to safety, but of course that was his plan all along. He whacks her around the head and steals her keys, because it makes perfect sense for her to have been carrying them around.
There is a bit of a kerfuffle and Diamond Dog murders the medic who was about to give Odelle his insulin, crushing the needle in the process.
Hearing the fighting, the Pilot decides to send the co-Pilot back with the gun.
It goes about as well as you'd expect.
Ignoring the question of why the co-Pilot chose to stick the gun out of the door whilst closing his eyes, there's a bigger question.
Why did he bother going back at all?
They've only been in the air for three minutes. They could have very easily just turned around and landed back in the original prison. With all of the heavily armed guards.
Anyway, so the crooks have taken control of the plane and Cyrus forces the Pilot to keep going.
Cyrus starts releasing the other crooks and locking up the guards, including Bishop (And Johnny 23 starts looking at her, setting up one of the subplots). But when Chapelle releases the undercover agent, the agent proves that he's got the IQ of a football player by taking him hostage.
Clearly, he's a master of timing.
Cyrus uses Bishop as a human shield and Poe's stuck in the middle. Despite trying to talk everyone down the agent gets killed. Cyrus takes an interest in Poe (Since Poe had also intervened earlier on Bishop's behalf against Johnny 23).
Turns out Poe's also got a reputation among inmates, since he killed someone important whilst inside.
Chapelle returns with details about their plan (Which requires them to make the next drop-off as scheduled, in order to pick up their employer). The plane was due to drop off 6 convicts and pick up 10, but unfortunately three of them picked up some bullet holes during the fighting.
Kinda puts a damper on their plans.
Cyrus points out that they could just put bags over the heads of three other people and use them, asking for volunteers. One old guy stands up, reasoning that he doesn't have long in prison to go anyway. Odelle and Poe stand up as well, since while Odelle has his insulin, all of the needles were broken.
Unfortunately however, Odelle is black, which is a bit of a hassle since all of the dead people were white.
Poe also elects to stay, which makes Billy a tad suspicious of him.
But this does leave them two white men short. Cyrus points out that the Pilot's white, making him one of very few movie psychopaths who actually keeps his word.
Poe suggests using one of the guards and he elects Falzone, sneaking the agent's hidden recording device into his pocket.
Does anyone still remember these things?
Meanwhile, the guards who were clearing out Cyrus's old cell discover a hidden compartment containing plane blueprints. Larkin investigates and starts to get suspicious.
As this happens, the plane touches down in Carson City for the prisoner transfer. Luckily for Cyrus there's a sandstorm and none of the cops actually get on the plane.
They hand over their prisoners and pick up the new ones, two of which are notable.
Swamp Thing is first.
Swamp Thing is a pilot/mechanic, whose in on the whole thing. The moment he gets aboard the plane he tears out the transponder and passes it to Chapelle to sneak off the plane.
And then there's this guy.
That's Sendino, the high ranking drug dealer who orchestrated the whole affair.
He's also a right piece of work, but we'll get to that later.
Because for now, Larkin has begun to put two and two together.
He decides to tell the people at Carson City to stall the plane as long as possible and he leaves, telling the guards not to touch anything. One of them doesn't listen.
They instantly regret that decision.
Back with the plane and they're accepting their very final prisoner. A man so dangerous that they keep him in a straight jacket with his mouth caged.
In other words, Hannibal Lecter was really popular back in 1997.
But I will admit that Steve Buscemi is creepier than Anthony Hopkins.
Falzone meanwhile is doing his best to get the attention of the guards, getting a jab in the ribs for his trouble, but it does cause the recording device to fall out of his pocket. This combined with a timely phone call from Larkin, causes them to send in some men with guns. Unfortunately they're not very subtle about it, which gives the baddies enough time to take off.
But not enough time for Chapelle to get back on the plane.
Although he did hide the transponder on a small tourists plane headed in the other direction.
Meanwhile, Larkin has to tell O'Brien that his agent's most likely dead, which leads to a really well acted and emotional scene.
This is why O'Brien was always my favourite DS9 character.
But he ruins it quite quickly by immediately blaming Larkin. because as I said, Colm only ever plays aresholes in movies. But he does it with gusto.
He makes a phone call and orders a few attack chopters to go after the plane, following the transponder.
Boy is he in for a surprise.
Back on the plane Cyrus decides to let Steve out of his cell. 
As they sit around in the cockpit Poe arrives and asks what the actual plan is. But before they can tell him Larkin radios them, calling for Cyrus.
They chat for a while, but neither get any useful information from the other and they hang up.
But Cyrus does tell Poe where they're headed, which is useful. Especially when he and Diamond Dog have to go into the belly of the plane and find out why the landing gear hasn't retracted properly.
Well there's your problem.
While Diamond Dog looks around for something to dislodge Chapelle's corpse, Poe uses a Sharpie to scrawl a message on Chappelle's T-shirt for Larkin, stating who the message is for and where the plane's going, before dumping the body out.
At least he was useful for something.
Of course, one of the cops who finds the body notices the message and phones Larkin. When Larkin asks why he should care about a body in the middle of nowhere the cop says that it's got Larkin's name written all over it.
Yeah, that one actually made me chuckle.
Pictured: The funniest guy in the whole movie.
Having received the message Larkin tries to get a chopter to take him to the plane's destination, but O'Brien took them all. Someone points out to him that if his car's fast enough he might be able to drive it and he dashes to his car.
Just a quick note, his car is the one on the left.
As he drives O'Brien's car towards the airfield, Poe has problems on the plane. Billy Bedlam (Who's been pretty antagonistic to Poe) is rummaging around in the cargo hold of the plane and has stumbled upon Poe's stuff, including his letters from his daughter, revealing that he's about to be released.
But all Poe cares about is telling him to "Put the bunny back in the box."
Billy doesn't comply and rushes Poe, getting into a fight in the cramped cargo hold.
He instantly regrets that decision.
Poe snarks that he should have put the bunny back in the box, beating out Riddick's snark by a few years.
Elsewhere, O'Brien (who had previously ignored a phone call from Larkin telling him about the transponder) and his attack chopters come up on the plane carrying the transponder.
Now that's an image.
Larkin arrives at the airfield only to find it deserted and the controller murdered.
He also gets to watch the prison plane almost crash into some propane tanks.
Well, you know what they say, any landing that doesn't result in a colossal explosion...
As the crooks get off the plane Cyrus decides that it'd be better if Bishop was locked in a cage, so that Johnny 23 doesn't get distracted. He also notices that Steve murdered one of the guards for no reason, but he doesn't bat an eye.
After clambering out Cyrus is disappointed that Sendino's plane's not there yet, but he's told to be patient.
More importantly, Poe tries to carry Odelle off the plane but can't, because he's too far gone and could go into shock. So instead he decides to check out the airfield and try to find a needle.
But first, he's got to deal with Diamond Dogs' plan to murder the remaining guards.
This is what you get for being a protagonist in an action movie.
Poe points out that Sendino's not a very trustworthy individual and if he's planning on betraying them then killing their leverage might not be a great idea. This doesn't persuade Diamond Dog but it does persuade Cyrus, who switches to Plan B and tells them to get the plane refuelled.
Oh, and Steve wanders off and finds a trailer park, seemingly inhabited solely by a young girl.
And this is why you should tell your children not to talk to strangers.
As Poe wanders off to find a needle for Odelle, Johnny 23 (Who was on the control tower as lookout) spots an small army driving towards them and warns the others.
Poe stumbles upon some Colombians with a plane who attack him.
They instantly regret that decision.
The fight ends with Larkin and Poe pointing guns at each other, neither really trusting the other. After a bit of talking they lower their weapons and make a deal. If it goes bad then Larkin will explain to Poe's wife and child why he stayed on the plane. And what will Poe do to earn this?
"What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the f***ing day."
As the cavalry draws nearer and nearer to the airfield the criminals all put their backs into their work, turning the plane around and refuelling it in record time. But Sendino runs off towards his hidden plane in order to make good his escape, but Larkin spots him.
Wow, Larkin does not have much luck does he?
But as Sendino tries to escape, Larkin grabs an industrial vehicle and manages to knock the tail off, sending the plane crashing into the petrol station.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.
This distraction did use up all of their time though and they can't get the plane fully refuelled in time, meaning that they'll have to fight and they know it, so they set some traps for the cavalry.
As Cyrus opens the belly of the plane to remove the small arsenal of guns in it (Which begs the question of why they were ever in there in the first place) he notices Billy's corpse, but he's too distracted by the incoming army to deal with it.
And so we get the main action scene of the movie. The army stumbles into Cyrus's traps as predicted and start getting slaughtered while Poe's busy finally finding a needle to save Odelle.
But while he's trying to get back he finds himself on the other side of the firefight.
This is especially bad since Johnny 23 has abandoned the fight in order to rape Bishop.
And Odelle's in no fit state to help.
So everything's gone to pot and there's no way for Poe to get through.
Enter Larkin, driving a snow plow.
And yes, it is awesome.
This gives the soldiers some cover so they can retreat and also gives Poe a distraction so he can get through and rescue his friends.
And it is rather satisfying to watch Johnny 23 get the snot kicked out of him.
Even if it is a bit blurry.
However, just as he's giving Odelle his insulin all of the bad guys stumble back on board and they take off again. Poe's attempted to tie the plane to a concrete pillar, but it doesn't work and the hook he used instead catches O'Brien's car. And so the plane takes off into the air, towing a very shiny car, just as O'Brien himself arrives on the scene.
The car doesn't make it.
O'Brien, understandably angry, rushes back to the attack chopters to give chase.
However, aboard the plane Diamond Dog finds Poe's stuff, especially the letters from his daughter. He hands it to Cyrus, who gets angry about there being a traitor. He of course suspects that it was Poe but the box didn't specify a name, so Odelle jumps in the way and says that it was him and that he'd just been faking his incapacitation.
Cyrus is not impressed.
Called it.
Cyrus of course knew it was really Poe, but he shot Odelle out of anger. Just as he's threatening Poe however, the attack chopters appear and give everyone a welcome distraction.
Bullets are highly distracting after all.
O'Brien and Larkin get into a shouting match over whether they should shoot the plane down or not and O'Brien eventually relents after Poe fights his way into the cockpit and takes control.
Which allows the plane enough time to get to Las Vegas, where it crashes into the strip.
As I said earlier, any landing that doesn't result in a giant explosion.
After the dust settles and the EMTs arrive, Larkin gets on the scene to watch as the criminals get arrested.
The surviving ones anyway.
All of the remaining guards survived the crash, although injured. As did both Poe and Bishop. Heck, even Odelle survived and he wasn't even strapped in. The paramedics cart him away saying that he'll probably make it, which totally averted what I was expecting to happen.
However, just as Larkin and Poe are about to meet up, both spot something they can't ignore.

All this time, Cyrus just wanted to play fireman.
Cyrus, Diamond Dog and Swamp Thing managed to escape the plane and steal a firetruck, so Poe and Larkin both give chase on police motorcycles. What follows is yet another climax fight scene where Poe clambers onto the truck and fist fights Cyrus.
While this is happening Larkin kills Diamond Dog and comes up with a way to stop the truck.
"Heeeere's Johnny!"
Larkin jams the firehose into the hole he made and turns it on, filling the cabin with water and causing Swamp Thing to lose control.
Meanwhile, Poe beats up Cyrus and handcuffs him to the end of the ladder, which he then activates.
Cyrus then gets smacked into a bridge at high speed, which catapults him through some power lines (Which electrocute him) and into a construction site.
Where he gets his head flattened.
I don't think he's dead enough.
Poe clambers to his feet and is met by Larkin. Poe happily says that there are now three men in the world he trusts, before meeting his wife and daughter in a very touching scene. He even saved the bunny (Though it's a bit dirty).
And so the movie ends with every criminal accounted for, except for Steve, who's escaped back into the world.
Just a reminder, this guy boasted earlier about how he wore a girl's head as a hat. He gets to go free.
Overall this movie was great. The action was intense and well-directed, a far cry from many modern action films where you can't tell what's going on. The characters were strong and easy to sympathise with and the baddies were realistic, especially when their plans started to go awry.
And best of all, this movie was funny.

But it does have some bad points. The crooks took over the plane mostly due to the guards stupidity. And some of the characters were unnecessary, like Steve and the one who dressed as a woman. Sure, Steve had some pithy things to say, but his subplot didn't go anywhere, which was a real shame considering the buildup it got.

But at the end of the day those complaints are rather minor. This movie is worth watching.
Next week Bruce Willis is a cop who's stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(It's not Die Hard though, that'll come later). 

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