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    Saturday, March 21, 2015
    So Bad It's... Bad. 

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce the return of Workout Movie Theater. In this ongoing series I review fragments of film I have caught on the elliptical or treadmill while at the gym. (Yes, I belong to one of those chichi gyms that have television screens attached to the workout equipment.)

    Today's film is Con Air, an action-adventure film from 1997. I like to think of the nineties as the golden era of crap action movies, possibly because that was the last decade when I actually had time to go to the movies. This film is outstandingly, memorably bad, not least because the cast is really very good. If only Arnold Schwarzenegger had been in it it would have been perfect. It's based on an actual federal air transport system used to move convicts and illegal aliens across the country. You don't have to be psychic to predict the plot: the criminals take over the plane and wreak havoc. Needless to say we've got a good guy on board who tries to take down the criminals.

    So far so good. Things start to unravel when you realize that the hero is played by Nicholas Cage, who has clad himself in a wifebeater T-shirt and Southern accent for this film. He's supposed to be a former Army Ranger from Alabama who went to jail for manslaughter committed when he was trying to protect his pregnant wife from assault. He's been in jail for seven years and has never seen his kid. Why he wound up on a plane with a bunch of mad serial killers I have no idea (I missed the start of the movie). The cast includes John Malkovich (chewing the scenery as the head bad guy), Steve Buscemi as a serial killer who really doesn't seem so bad compared to Malkovich's character, Colm Meaney (aka "the Irish guy from Star Trek") as a DEA agent, and John Cusack, who looks about twelve, as a U.S. Marshal. (I understand Cusack hates this film so much that he refuses to talk about it in interviews. I can't say I blame him.)

    So. With a cast like this, why is it so bad? Let's list the reasons.

    • Language. Not only do we have F-bonbs galore, we have more gratuitous racist insults than you would believe. In the setting of a plane full of convicts, half black and half white, I would have expected to hear some of this stuff, but it was almost nonstop. This film is 18 years old and in this respect, it shows. I don't believe any movie, R rating or no, would get away with this today.
    • Predictable plot twists. The climax of the film involves the plane landing in Las Vegas. They've cleared the runways for the plane to land at the airport, but of course it's out of fuel. The pilot then announces that he's going to land on - wait for it - the Las Vegas Strip. Cue the crashing neon, screaming crowds, flying propellers... on what seems like an endless loop for at least three minutes. 
    • An unbelievably corny script. Nicholas Cage's cellmate was apparently also assigned to this flight. When Malkovich announces that there's a traitor on the plane and threatens to kill one of the guards, the cellmate does an "I am Spartacus," takes the blame before Cage can confess and gets shot for his trouble. The cellmate, lying on the floor of the plane and looking like he's about to check out, announces that he doesn't believe in God, whereupon Cage responds "I'm going to show you that there IS a God!" as he jumps up and heads forward to take over the plane. (Did I mention that he has shoulder-length Jesus hair?)
    • The ending. Ugh. Our hero has been toting a stuffed bunny rabbit as a gift for his daughter throughout the movie. The blasted thing somehow survives the crash, landing in the gutter in a puddle of mud. Cage picks it up and presents it to his daughter, who promptly hides behind her mother. (I think this is supposed to play on the audience's heartstrings; I admired the daughter's good taste.) Prompted by her mother, who is dressed in a two-piece sweater set and has her hair in a headband and generally looks like she stepped out of Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1962, she takes the rabbit and hugs her daddy. The only thing that cuts the glucose here is the final scene in which we see good old serial killer Steve Buscemi, who survived the crash, shooting craps in a casino and announcing that he feels "lucky."
    I laughed my way through this thing and managed 40 minutes on the elliptical while watching it, so I suppose it did its job. But afterwards I realized something that depressed me for the rest of the day: since 1997, movies have gotten even worse. At least Con Air had an original script. It was not a remake, had nothing to do with Marvel Comics or transformer robots, and had very little CGI. It had a cast of experienced professional actors who did the best they could with the material they had. There were no fart jokes, at least not in the part of the film I saw.

    These thoughts left me asking myself "Whither Hollywood?" I could only answer with a shrug and "Nowhither, I guess."

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