Con Air

Con Air is a 1997 American action/thriller film by Touchstone Pictures that stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich. It is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Simon West. The film borrows its title from the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, an airline used by the federal government to transport criminals across the country.

The film featured the 1997 hit single "How Do I Live", originally performed by LeAnn Rimes and performed for the film by Trisha Yearwood. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Song and Sound, losing to Titanic in both categories.


Cameron Poe, a honorably discharged United States Army Ranger, is found guilty of manslaughter in the death of an innocent but drunk bar customer while trying to defend his pregnant wife Tricia from him, and sentenced to seven to ten years. During his time in prison, he communicates with his wife and daughter while taking time to better himself. He is released on parole eight years later, and is scheduled to be flown back to Alabama on the same day as his daughter Casey's seventh birthday. Poe is arranged transport on the "Jailbird", a C-123 airplane, along with a fellow prisoner Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell and several other prisoners destined for a new Supermax prison, including William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford, Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones, and Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. The prisoner transfer is overseen by U.S. Marshall Vince Larkin; however, he is approached by DEA agent Duncan Malloy, who asks to put undercover agent Sims on board the plane in order to gain intelligence from one of the prisoners during flight. Larkin acquiesces but insists the agent go aboard unarmed, but Malloy is able to sneak Sims a gun during the boarding pat-down.

Shortly after the flight takes off, Jones and Grissom are able to free themselves with the help of a distraction by another prisoner, Pinball Parker, and the prisoners quickly subdue the guards and take control of the cockpit to prevent the pilot from reporting in. In the ensuing chaos, Sims attempts to threaten Grissom, but Poe, recognizing that Sims is at a disadvantage, attempts to talk the agent out of it; Sims ignores the advice and ends up dead. As Grissom organizes the other prisoners to prepare for a scheduled landing in Carson City in order to meet the required prisoner transfer numbers, Poe spots a recording device on Sims' body; he transfers it to one the guards that are being substituted for dead prisoners. Grissom insures the prison transfer goes smoothly, instructing Pinball to hide the plane's transmitter, and despite Poe's efforts, the plane leaves Carson City without incident. Poe, along with Jones, go into the hull to determine the cause of the plane's slow speed and find that Parker's body is lodged into the landing wheel compartment, having missed the plane taking off. Poe takes the opportunity to write a message on Parker's shirt to Larkin and pushes the body out of the plane, where it lands in the middle of traffic. Larkin is quickly made aware of the message; he also discovers the true identity of the "prisoners" dropped off in Carson City, and that plans for the plane's takeover were present in Grissom's cell. He and Malloy realize something is wrong, and while Malloy immediately takes off to follow the plane's transceiver, snuck aboard a sightseeing plane, Larkin recognizes that the prisoners' plane is headed in the opposite direction to the disused Lerner Airfield; he borrows Malloy's sportscar to make it to the field before the plane can land, calling in the National Guard and other forces to help secure the airfield.

Aboard the plane, Poe attempts to keep his identity secret, killing Bedford when he discovers Poe's parole letter in the personal belongings in the hull. Poe learns from Grissom that this plot was set up by drug lord Francisco Cindino, one of the other prisoners, promising that once they land at Lerner, another plane will be waiting for them to help them gain asylum in "non-extradition territory". The plane lands at the airfield, running aground, but no plane seems to be waiting for them; while the rest of the prisoners are forced by Grissom to dig out the plane, Poe explores the field to try to find insulin for O'Dell. Larkin, also on the field, happens upon the plane that Cindino promised, finding that Cindino has double-crossed Grissom and trying to flee on his own. Larkin is able to disable the plane, and the crash alerts Grissom, who burnt Cindino alive. The prisoners observe that armed forces are advancing on the field, and they set up a trap for the forces. Larkin and Poe briefly meet to discuss the situation before the troops arrive; Larkin goes off to help stop the troops from being massacred, while Poe returns to the plane to give O'Dell his insulin. As the troops overrun the trap, Grissom and the remaining prisoners return to the plane and take off, despite damage to the plane. Grissom discovers Poe's true identity, but before he can kill him, the plane is forced to crash land along The Strip in Las Vegas; Grissom, Jones and Swamp Thing quickly escape into the chaos. Poe and Larkin team up to follow and kill Grissom and the escaping convicts. Poe is reunited with Tricia and Casey, while telling Larkin that he now trusts him fully.


  • Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) - a paroled ex-convict and former Army Ranger catching a ride home aboard Con Air from San Quentin to Alabama where he will be returned to his family
  • Vince Larkin (John Cusack) - a chief U.S. Marshal looking to take back the "Jailbird" with Poe's help
  • Cyrus 'The Virus' Grissom (John Malkovich) - a cunning, intelligent murderer and leader of the inmate uprising, who has spent 25 of his 39 years in the prison system and has been deemed a "true product of the system"
  • Nathan 'Diamond Dog' Jones (Ving Rhames) - a black militant leader imprisoned for murdering National Rifle Association members and who acts as Cyrus's second-in-command during the uprising
  • Joe 'Pinball' Parker (Dave Chappelle) - a drug addict, arsonist, and inmate responsible for distracting the guards, allowing Grissom and Jones the opportunity to initiate the uprising
  • Mike 'Baby-O' O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson) - Poe's nonviolent cellmate who is transferring between prisons and is a steadfast friend and one of the few decent prisoners aboard the plane.
  • William 'Billy Bedlam' Bedford (Nick Chinlund) - a mass murderer who is responsible for killing his adulterous girlfriend's entire family and classified as a "separatee" inmate along with Grissom, Jones and Greene.
  • Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene (Steve Buscemi) - an infamous, soft-spoken serial killer who is feared by the other inmates and revered by Grissom and imprisoned under the highest security measures, including extreme body restraints and a Hannibal Lecter-style mask; he supplies an interesting role (during the time the prisoners land at Lerner Airfield, Garland meets and comes to converse with a little girl, who remains unharmed). He also has a comical conversation with Poe, and escapes at the end of the film.
  • Johnny 'Johnny-23' Baca (Danny Trejo) - a serial rapist who derives his nickname from the number of convicted rapes, although he claims to be responsible for 600 and wears a string of heart tattoos on his arm to mark each rape conviction.
  • Swamp Thing (M. C. Gainey) - a Vietnam War veteran and drug smuggler imprisoned for landing a jet full of controlled substances whose pilot expertise is sought after and used to fly the "Jailbird" following its takeover
  • Francisco Cindino (Jesse Borrego) - the heir of a Colombian drug cartel family financing Grissom's escape.
  • Ramon 'Sally-Can't Dance' Martinez (Renoly Santiago) - an effeminate, transvestite inmate who appears sexually subservient to his fellow detainees.
  • Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) - an overzealous DEA agent looking to shoot down the plane after the death of Agent Sims.
  • Guard Sally Bishop (Rachel Ticotin) - a female prison guard transporting Poe and O'Dell who remains protected by Poe during inmate takeover of the plane.
  • Guard Falzon (Steve Eastin) - a prison guard who dislikes inmates and is saved by Poe (whom he had dubbed "trailer trash"), who plants Sims' tape recorder on him to alert the Carson City authorities.
  • Willie Sims (Jose Zuniga) - an undercover DEA agent who is posing as an inmate to interrogate Cindino about the family drug business and killed during takeover of the plane.
  • Tricia Poe (Monica Potter) - Poe's wife.
  • Casey Poe (Landry Allbright) - Poe's daughter.


Portrayal of diabetes

Con Air has been criticized for its inaccurate portrayal of diabetes mellitus. Baby-O displays some symptoms of hypoglycemia (extreme low blood sugar) rather than the hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that he is supposed to be suffering from. He also appears to recover immediately on receiving insulin, which is unrealistic, and the degree of urgency attached to his needing treatment is generally more like that of someone with hypoglycemia (who needs urgent treatment within minutes) than someone with hyperglycemia (which takes longer to develop). The movie contributes to the dangerous misconception that the appropriate treatment for a diabetic "in crisis" is insulin; in fact, it is much more likely the patient is hypoglycemic and needs sugar; treatment with insulin is extremely dangerous in this circumstance.

Federal Jurisdiction

The entire premise of the movie revolves around key precepts of the American federal criminal justice system (Federal Bureau of Prisons incarceration and JPATS transport), even though the manslaughter offense committed by Poe, in addition to many of the other criminal offenses assigned to the other characters, are generally not under federal jurisdiction (unless there is a federal element such as occurring on a military base) and would probably have been in state court, thus no involvement with JPATS. Additionally, the 'person as deadly weapon' theme is a common urban legend; deadly weapons are by definition tools (Poe's case is also an air-tight, textbook case of self-defense (or defense of another) against deadly-force, which is a valid legal defense in every state).

Also, having entered into a plea bargain to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 4-year sentence, Poe had the right to withdraw his guilty plea when the judge refused to abide by the sentence recommended by the prosecutor.

Furthermore, parole was abolished for all federal inmates entered into the system after November 1, 1987. The film depicts Poe as receiving parole on his daughter's seventh birthday, but given the time references of the movie (his service in the Gulf War, et cetera), parole would not have been available to a federal inmate.


  • The main action of the movie takes place on July 14, Bastille Day, when the infamous prison was destroyed in the French Revolution.
  • On the DVD commentary of Chappelle's Show, Dave Chappelle states that he improvised most of his lines in this film.
  • Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to cut the final scene of Greene at the craps table in Las Vegas and end the movie with the heartfelt family reunion. The screenwriters convinced Bruckheimer to include the scene and in test screenings audiences loved it, thus it stayed.
  • This was Jerry Bruckheimer's first film following the death a year earlier of producing partner Don Simpson. Simpson died during production of The Rock.

Television/film references

  • In The New Guy, Dizzy Harrison (DJ Qualls) arrives at his new school in the same restrictive outfit that Garland Greene wears when he is first loaded onto the plane.
  • In the movie Dogma, Chris Rock falls from the sky and hits the ground near Jay and Silent Bob. Jay remarks, "Do you think he has a message on him like that dude in Con Air?" This rouses Rock's character to reply, "Oh, God, did that suck!" He further states, "Con air, con shit!"
  • It was referenced in an episode of Code Monkeys.
  • One of the episodes in American Dad is titled Con Heir

Box office

U.S. Gross Domestic Takings US$101,117,573
Other International Takings $122,894,661
Gross Worldwide Takings $224,012,234


External links

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