As bombastic, overheated '90s action-thrillers go, "Con Air" is more entertaining than most. And for that we can thank the film's huge budget.
And I'm not referring to the stunts and pyrotechnics although the bulk of the film's cost no doubt went in that direction.
But without enough money, the producers could never have afforded to get such unlikely action-movie choices as Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich in the same movie. And the presence of these seasoned actors gives the film quite a boost.
The plot is familiar if you've seen any of the television ad spots and how could you miss them?
Under the opening credits, Cage is shown to be a decorated Army veteran who comes home and promptly gets into a barroom brawl with a trio of villains who are mean and nasty to his pregnant wife (Monica Potter). He accidentally kills one of the guys and finds himself railroaded into a prison term after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
After serving eight years, during which time he buffs up, learns to meditate and befriends his diabetic cell mate (Mykelti Williamson), Cage is finally paroled and he finds himself traveling with Williamson, who is being transferred.
Unfortunately, their flight is also populated with a bevy of violent hard-core criminals, led by John Malkovich, who has come up with a complicated hijacking plot to set the planeload of bad guys free.
Among the villains on board are Ving Rhames as a murderer, Dave Chappelle as a wild-eyed lunatic, M.C. Gainey as the convict who can fly the plane, Renoly as a gay crack addict, Danny Trejo as a serial rapist and, eventually, Steve Buscemi as a serial killer and child molester.
As Cage puts it, "They somehow managed to get every creep and freak in the universe on this one plane."
Cage feigns joining them, but his true intention is to help Williamson and a female guard (Rachel Ticotin) escape. As he says to John Cusack late in the film, he's going to save the day.
He does, of course, but not before a lot of explosions, chases, fights, gruesome deaths and general mayhem culminating in the ruination of downtown Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Cusack and Colm Meaney are arguing over how to handle the situation. Meaney wants to shoot the plane down, killing everyone on board. But Cusack wants to save the surviving guards and Cage.
There are quite a few funny wisecracks peppering the dialogue, and Cage's accent a sort of cornpone imitation of Elvis Presley and his dry-witted delivery are certainly entertaining.
But the film does have its unsavory moments as well, chiefly an attempted rape and a sequence that implies for awhile that Buscemi might have molested and killed a cute little girl. (This ties into the film's last shot, which is open to cynical interpretation.)
Some of the action scenes are also hard to watch, the kind of chaotic, headache-inducing, quick-cut editing that makes it hard to tell what exactly is going on.
There are enough action highlights however preposterous and amusing bits of comic business to make "Con Air" worth a two-hour movie binge.
But there's no denying that the current action-movie trend is an annoying one noise over story, wisecracks over character development, impossible escapes over genuine reality-based tension.
It's fun once in awhile, but do they all have to be this way?
"Con Air" is rated R for violence, gore, attempted rape, profanity, vulgarity and racial epithets.