The movie opens up in Alabama. Our hero, Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), has just learned that his wife is pregnant. While they're celebrating, he defends his wife against a couple of drunken thugs. He kills one of them and is sent to prison for manslaughter. 8 years later, Cameron is paroled; his release date just so happens to be the birthday of the daughter he's never met.
Cameron is put on an ancient cargo plane to go back to his family. He's joined by an assortment of convicts, most of whom seem to be on their way to supermax. This flight is being carefully coordinated by U.S. Marshal Larkin (John Cusack). Cameron's fellow cons are a charming bunch: a serial killer Cyrus "the Virus" (John Malkovich), a serial rapist nicknamed Johnny-23 (Danny Trejo), a militant black man Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), and spree killer Billy Bedlam (Nick Chinlund). Also along for the ride is Cameron's cellmate Baby-O (Mykelti Williamson).
Besides being desperate, Cyrus is also booksmart and cunning. He stages a mid-air riot. The rest of Cyrus's merry men incapacitate the guards and hijack the aircraft. It's now up to Cameron, the only honest man on board, to save the day.
I wouldn't call myself a Nicolas Cage fan, but I greatly enjoyed his pitch black turn as a paramedic in Scorcese's Bringing Out the Dead as well as his performance as a wizard in Disney's The Sorceror's Apprentice. He does a great job of making Cameron into a relatable "aw shucks" good ol' boy, but you can glimpse the combat trained, torture-tested interior. Steve Buscemi as Garland Greene is every bit as creepy a villain as Hannibal Lecter; equally terrifying in their roles are Nick Chinlund and John Malkovich.
The plot is pretty simple, but it's an action movie; it's not supposed to be deep. In fact, some of the worst action movies I've seen were ones that tried too hard to be clever and meaningful. Con Air's storyline really just provides an excuse to watch fight scenes and things exploding. And as bad as things get for Cameron, you know that good will eventually triumph over evil.
Not only is this a suspenseful action movie, for TV crime drama buffs, watching Con Air can become a fun game of Hey, It's That Guy! The cast features two principal villains from Justified and other actors have played criminals on various shows over the years. Tell me how many you can spot in the comments.