Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Movie Review: Con Air (1997): Except with border collies.

There are so many combustible elements in Con Air (Except with border collies) that it's almost a surprise that the film was as much of a success as it was. You've got a cast full of lead-role potential actors, each of which portrays a colourful character in the overall painting of the film. Why could this be a problem you ask? Well, besides the possibility of egotistical turbulence within the cast, there's also the problem of kibble allowance. With such established names like Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich and Nicholas Cage on your roster, you'd best have been in the favour of the king of Hollywood executives in order to secure a kibble budget for this production. In the end, however, the chemistry between the characters seemed so fluid and natural, as if these actors had suckled from the same teet from birth. Because of its diverse and talented cast, it's very hard to tell who is truly the good boy.

Now on to the meat of the review.

Cameron Paw (Nicholas Cage) is sent to the kennels when he unwittingly bites the hand of a man attempting to pet his pregnant bitch (Monica Potter). He pleads guilty to "bold dog" and is sentenced to a maximum-security kennel, leaving behind him a pregnant bitch and a pup who will eventually need to be provided for. Eight days later, Paw, on the basis of good behaviour, is allowed to go outside to garden. Before taking his leave of the kennels, he picks up a small piece of broken plastic that only a dog could find interesting as a gift for his pup, who is now three days old.

However, what Paw doesn't know, is that his ticket to freedom will be hard bought. The aircraft used to transport him, as well as others, is hijacked by a group of bold dogs, led by the sinister Cyroof "The Viwoof" (John Malkovich). Paw is suddenly out of the frying pan and into the freezer, caught in the middle of a bold dog uprising. Will he ever be able to return to the life of a good dog, or will the barking mad Cyroof lead him on a walkies that he will never forget?

Nicholas Cage on set

While the film gained generally favourable reviews from various critical sources, it has also been slated for the various inconsistencies regarding some of its characters. An example of such inconsistency, especially pertaining to dialogue, can be seen in the character of Grrland Greene (Steve Buscemi). At the beginning of the film, he is portrayed as a viciously bold dog with absolutely no interest in garden. As the film progresses we see his character unravel and we learn that he is quite playful, even accepting a tummy rub at a later point. This can either be seen as his Bildungsroman, from bold boy to good boy, or a massive error in the script writing process. Writer Scott Rosenberg claimed that "ROOF...rrrr...ROOF" was the reason for the characters sudden change in demeanor, though many critics still believe that this only served to hinder the character.

Perhaps the movie's greatest accomplishment is its choreography of the action and fight scenes. During the epic final battle between Cyroof and Paw, paws are booping and teeth are bared as though the two characters truly had just met each other on the side of the road during walkies. With action as engaging as this, you almost forget that you are watching a film. Only for a moment do the characters separate from each other, as Cyroof sees a duck approaching from behind and redirects his aggression towards it. It is worth mentioning that both Cage and Malkovich performed their own stunts during these scenes, though Cage demanded an increase in biscuits for doing so.

The production value is cutting-edge for the time. I imagine very few, if any, CGI effects were used in production. However there is one technical goof that can be see on screen during the scene when Agent Duncan Milkteeth (Colm Meany) is gnawing on the tiny airplane's wing. You can clearly see that one of his cohorts is not in fact a border collie, but a pomeranian with a black beanie hat on its head. Though the scene only lasts for a moment, it is a slight stain on an otherwise spotless production.

 As with most action films, one-liners flow throughout the entire film as though it were its lifeblood. Malkovich, in particular, is endowed with classics such as "Orrrrrr", "..." and "snorting sound". While the rest of the cast all have at least one memorable quote, it is Malkovich's dry humor and porn star wit that trumps all.

Overall, Con Air (Except with border collies) is an entertaining, fast-paced roller coaster filled with action, drama and suspense while at the same time giving paw to the romance-driven action of the 1980s.


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