Movie Review - Conair
'Con' game
Actors must fight to salvage this film full of action-movie cliches

Conair BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Con Air has a few things going for it -- extravagant action, irreverent humor and an interesting cast.

Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi and Ving Rhames enjoy reputations as serious actors given to artistically ambitious roles. But with Con Air, they might as well be the Toledo Mud Hens. Sucked into the mighty action-movie vortex, for the most part they become accessories to the pyrotechnics.

Mr. Cage plays Cameron Poe, an ex-Army Ranger who is equal parts Boy Scout and Terminator. Unjustly imprisoned, he does push-ups and writes letters home until he's paroled. His ride home turns out to be the inaugural flight of a plane transporting the gnarliest evildoers alive to a new maximum-security prison.

Con Air
**1/2

(R; strong violence, profanity)
Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack.
Directed by Simon West.
115 minutes.
National Amusements, Oakley Drive-In, Starlite Drive-In, Cinema 10.
Among them is a serial killer (Mr. Buscemi) who once wore a victim's head as a hat. He apparently appears for the sole purpose of recalling Silence of the Lambs, right down to his fetishistic leather full-body harness.

Led by the wicked Cyrus the Virus (Mr. Malkovich), the cons hijack the plane and fly it to a couple of showdown spots, including Las Vegas. The stunts and explosions are amazing, of course, but escalate to overwrought chaos by the end.

A Ranger, we're told at the get-go, ''never leaves behind a fallen comrade.'' That explains why Cameron doesn't hightail it when he has the chance, but sticks around to communicate with federal marshals -- in one instance, via dead body -- and teach the bad guys some manners.

The interplay between Cameron and the bad cons offers large helpings of snappy, tough-guy one-liners, as when a killer asks Cameron, ''You know what I am?,'' and he answers, ''Ugly all day?'' Such zingers add a taste of nutball humor that helps disguise a story crammed with inconsistencies and contradictions.

A few examples. If the pre-prison Cameron is arriving home from the Gulf War when we meet him, how come his wife is already pregnant? In what state does an obvious act of self-defense draw a seven-to-10 year sentence? Why doesn't the pilot report the takeover after Cyrus leaves him alone in the cockpit?

There are many more, including such chestnuts as a hero who hangs off a truck with one arm recently ventilated by a bullet.

Mr. Malkovich and Mr. Cage have fun with their respective cartoon characters, as do most of the supporting cast (though in yet another action-flick stereotype, Monica Potter as Cameron's wife is pure vanilla cupcake).

First-time director Simon West and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg know how to follow the brainless, big-boom, summer-fun formula -- and they earn extra points by assigning the mandatory Plucky Little Dog role to a stuffed rabbit.

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