Face-Off: The Rock vs. Con Air

In our previous Face-Off, I dropped close combat action films JACK REACHER and JOHN WICK into the ring, and not only did 100% of you agree with my decision to give it to JOHN WICK, no one complained that it was a lopsided Face-Off or politely asked me to leave the internet forever. It was as if I'd died and went to movie column Heaven. They already have the Episode VIII trailer there, by the way. Looks pretty good.

This week, we're sticking with action films but taking it back to the mid-90's, when almost every summer saw madman Nicolas Cage running to or from a variety of explosions. Along with John Woo's FACE/OFF, THE ROCK and CON AIR would go down as some of the most fun and over-the-top blockbusters of the decade, but which one holds up best today? Break out your best Cage, Connery, and Malkovich impressions, and let's blow some shit up.
Nicolas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed. In a genre that usually demands the hero be composed, fearless, and full of clever one-liners, it's refreshing to see Cage as a PG-lipped walking anxiety attack, especially one who can muster courage when it counts.
Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe. While it's cool to see Poe transition from clean cut soldier to scruffy, take-no-shit convict, the character isn't terribly interesting otherwise and especially doesn't stand out among the rest of the cast. Also, that accent...
Sean Connery as John Patrick Mason
Ed Harris as General Francis X. Hummel
John Spencer as F.B.I. Director Womack
David Morse as Major Tom Baxter
William Forsythe as Ernest Paxton
Michael Biehn as Commander Anderson
Vanessa Marcil as Carla Pestalozzi
John C. McGinley as Marine Captain Hendrix
Bokeem Woodbine as Sergeant Crisp
John Malkovich as Cyrus 'The Virus' Grissom
Ving Rhames as Diamond Dog
John Cusack as Vince Larkin
Dave Chappelle as Pinball
Danny Trejo as Johnny-23
Steve Buscemi as Garland Greene
Colm Meaney as Duncan Malloy
Monica Potter as Tricia Poe
Nick Chinlund as Billy Bedlam

Okay, don't get me wrong; Sean Connery and Ed Harris give performances miles above any in CON AIR, but CON AIR has such a rich, ridiculous, fun tapestry of characters. Other than the big names, THE ROCK is mostly just full of grumpy Feds and Marines yelling at each other.
When a group of Marines take an Alcatraz tour group hostage and threaten a chemical attack on San Francisco, the FBI calls on a chemical weapons specialist, an aging federal prisoner, and a small team of Navy SEALs to sneak into the prison and diffuse the situation.
When a group of high profile convicts takes control of a transport prison aircraft mid-flight, a prisoner on his way to freedom and family must work with a U.S. Marshal on the ground to thwart their plan and save lives in the process.
"Welcome to The Rock."

"Congressman Weaver and esteemed members of the Special Armed Services Committee, I come before you to protest a grave injustice... It has to stop."

"You alert the media, I launch the gas. You refuse payment, I launch the gas. You've got forty hours, until noon, day after tomorrow, to arrange transfer of the money. I am aware of your countermeasure. You know and I know it doesn't stand a chance. Hummel from Alcatraz, out."

"Womack! Why am I not surprised, you piece of shit!"

"Okay, I don't want to know nothing. I never saw you throw that gentleman off the balcony. All I care about is: are you happy with your haircut?"

"Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen."
"Carla was the prom queen."

"You've been around a lot of corpses. Is that normal?"

"What do you say we cut the chit-chat, A-HOLE?"

"Well, it's certainly more enjoyable than my average day... reading philosophy, avoiding gang rape in the washrooms... though it's less of a problem these days. Maybe I'm losing my sex appeal."

"How, in the name of Zeus's butthole, did you get out of your cell?"

"Look, I'm just a biochemist. Most of the time, I work in a little glass jar and lead a very uneventful life. I drive a Volvo, a beige one. But what I'm dealing with here is one of the most deadly substances the earth has ever known, so what say you cut me some FRIGGIN' SLACK?"

"I don't quite see how you cherish the memory of the dead by killing another million, and this is not combat, it's an act of lunacy, General, sir. Personally, I think you're a f*cking idiot."

"Excuse me, general... but what about the f*cking money?"

"Well, Stanley, I guess this is where we go our separate ways. I'm sure you know the etymology of your name, Goodspeed."
"God speed, to wish someone a prosperous journey. Why?"
"If you fancy a journey, I recommend Fort Walton, Kansas."
"I was thinking of Maui."
"Forget Maui."
"'St Michael's Church, Fort Walton, Kansas. Front pew, right leg, hollow.' Is this what I think it is?Mason?!"

"Honey? Uh... You wanna know who really killed JFK?"
"Welcome to Con Air."

"They somehow managed to get every creep and freak in the universe onto this one plane. And then somehow managed to let them take it over. And then somehow managed to stick us right smack in the middle."

"Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash."

"Do you know what I am?"
"Ugly all day?"

"Beautiful? Sunsets are beautiful. Newborn babies are beautiful. This... this is f*cking spectacular!"

"He's a font of misplaced rage. Name your cliché; mother held him too much or not enough, last picked at kickball, late night sneaky uncle, whatever. Now he's so angry moments of levity actually cause him pain; gives him headaches. Happiness, for that gentleman, hurts."

"I despise rapists. For me, you're somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that accumulates at the corner of your mouth when you're really thirsty."

"There is no medicine for what I have."

"Garrulous? What the f*ck is garrulous?"
"That would be loquacious, verbose, effusive. How about chatty?"
"What's with Dictionary Boy?"
"Thesaurus Boy I think is more appropriate."

"Put the bunny back in the box."

"Fact 1: we've got a plane up there filled with killers, rapists, and thieves and we've got this guy Cameron Poe: in on an involuntary manslaughter beef, non-gang affiliated. He's a parolee hitching a ride home. Fact 2: Poe has a chance to get off the plane, doesn't do it. Why? Fact 3: our guard Falzon said a convict named Cameron Poe planted Sims's tape recorder on him. These are interesting facts. You do the math on this... and we got an ally on that plane."

"Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you."

"What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn't you consider that to be insane?"

"Make a move and the bunny gets it."

"He's got the who-ole world in his hands..."

"I'm going to show you God does exist."

"Just so's ya know, Marshal Larkin, there's now three people I trust."
When Michael Bay isn't primarily focused on seeing how many explosions and dramatic shots he can fit into every frame, the guy's actually a pretty decent director. Sure, there's some of that in THE ROCK, but it's relatively restrained, resulting in a film that holds up surprisingly well today.
Simon West helms a hell of a fun movie, and the pacing keeps the audience engaged every second of the way, but man oh man does CON AIR have some bad moments. The constant push for tongue-in-cheek gags is perhaps the most distracting element and makes the few attempts at seriousness seem silly by comparison.
THE ROCK plays more like a stealth thriller than an action movie, which keeps it from being as fun as CON AIR, but we do get some gripping shootouts and a fun escape scene in which we learn that everything in San Francisco explodes when hit by a car (there's the Michael Bay we know!).
While some moments are way too over the top, CON AIR goes balls to the wall and delivers just about everything you could want from a popcorn action flick. That said, the last 30 minutes are a complete disaster, albeit a highly entertaining one. A firetruck in a tunnel spraying water at pursuing motorcycles? Sure, why not.
IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 66% (Audience Score: 86%)
Metacritic: 58 (User Score: 8.8)
Domestic Total Gross: $134,069,511
IMDB: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 54% (Audience Score: 75%)
Metacritic: 52 (User Score: 8.8)
Domestic Total Gross: $101,117,573
CON AIR is an insanely entertaining film and arguably the more consistently watchable of the two, but it ultimately feels like a relic of the mid-90's, while THE ROCK tells a more compelling story and has aged much more gracefully. Let me know your choice down below as well as some of your favorite guilty pleasure action flicks. Also, have any of you seen and actually enjoyed any of the Cage-led movies of the past decade? I'm curious if there's anything worthwhile in the slew of B movies the actor's been churning out.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].



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