“All of a sud­den they’re un­leashed in Ve­gas. It was like the Vik­ings at­tack­ing, loot­ing and sack­ing.”

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents -

“You can imag­ine, it got pretty ma­cho out there in the desert,” says West. “Ev­ery­one went a lit­tle crazy. They built a dojo so at lunch they could all fight and wres­tle each other, and it did be­come a bit like a prison. Ev­ery­body was stripped to the waist all the time be­cause it was so hot, ev­ery­one was show­ing off their mus­cles. There was com­pe­ti­tion over who could do the most pull-ups and push-ups.” In a pod­cast in­ter­view last year, Ty Gran­der­son Jones, who played the con­vict Blade, said there were of­ten fights brew­ing, and he punched a few guys who wanted to cause trou­ble with him. Danny Trejo, who played Johnny 23 and spent years in the pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem him­self, has said it was the big­gest test of testos­terone he’d ever seen.

Cage, Trejo claimed, was the bad­dest bad­dass of them all, while West de­scribes him as “ripped” and says, “He could beat ev­ery­body, hands down. He did 70 one-arm push-ups, or some­thing ridicu­lous,” though he mostly kept to him­self. “Nic was in the cra­zi­est shape of his life,” Rosen­berg tells us: sober, eat­ing mac­ro­bi­otic food, work­ing out con­stantly in his mo­bile gym, be­hav­ing “like a monk”. The other big leads also kept away from the off-screen de­bauch­ery, of which there was much. “In Wen­dover there was one Pizza Hut, one Block­buster video and one lit­tle casino,” says West. “And a strip club. Which was called The Amer­i­can Bush. I would be shoot­ing all day and was ex­hausted at night, go­ing back to my ho­tel room and pre­par­ing for the next day, but 400 guys would de­scend en masse on this lit­tle town and ba­si­cally take it over.”

They spent many hours at The Amer­i­can Bush, Rosen­berg re­calls. “At any one time, you could look up and one of the cons was in the DJ booth putting on some AC/DC. I joked that 15 years later, you’d see an ar­ti­cle in a news­pa­per about how the Wen­dover foot­ball team is the great­est in the coun­try, be­cause all these big gi­ant guys [from the film] im­preg­nated these strip­pers, who went off to have big gi­ant ba­bies that would even­tu­ally make the Wen­dover foot­ball team.”

Chaos con­tin­ued when the pro­duc­tion moved to Las Ve­gas to film the cli­max. “It was crazy,” says Rosen­berg. “These guys were cooped up in that lit­tle town then all of a sud­den they’re un­leashed in Ve­gas. It was like the Vik­ings at­tack­ing, loot­ing and sack­ing.” Of­ten­times, when peo­ple were needed on set, they were nowhere to be found. “I’d be shoot­ing and I’d say, ‘Where’s so and so?’” says West. “And some­one would say they were in a casino. We’d have to send peo­ple out to track them down.”

West’s orig­i­nal idea for the cli­max was to have the plane crash into The Mi­rage casino’s fake vol­cano, which would then erupt on cue, the plane sink­ing into the lake, lead­ing to an un­der­wa­ter fight be­tween Poe and Cyrus. But that went ka­put when Mi­rage owner Steve Wynn read the script. Wynn wanted to move The Mi­rage away from Ve­gas’ Sin City rep­u­ta­tion and at­tract fam­i­lies, and didn’t want the as­so­ci­a­tion with an R-rated film. So West was without his lo­ca­tion.

But the di­rec­tor had re­cently read in the Los An­ge­les Times that the Sands casino was clos­ing down, sched­uled to be de­mol­ished. He asked them to de­lay the de­mo­li­tion un­til they got there,

and they agreed. Although the first part of the crash, the plane caus­ing carnage as it de­scended, was done with minia­tures, the rest was real: they smashed all hell out of the place. And then, af­ter film­ing a post-cli­max cli­max with mo­tor­bikes and a fire en­gine, they were done.


screen­ing took place in Ari­zona. “It was go­ing along fine,” re­mem­bers Todd Garner, “un­til the scene with Gar­land Greene and the lit­tle girl” — Rosen­berg’s ho­mage to Franken­stein. The orig­i­nal cut of that se­quence, in which Gar­land meets the child in a trailer park, was con­sid­er­ably longer, the ten­sion “ex­cru­ci­at­ing” says West. “About a minute-and-a-half into the scene,” con­tin­ues Garner, “a wo­man stood up and turned to us and said, ‘Why are you guys do­ing this to us?’ And walked out. [For­mer Dis­ney CEO] Michael Eis­ner turned to me and [for­mer Dis­ney chair­man] Joe Roth and said, ‘We’re gonna cut that down, right?’ And we said, ‘Oh yeah, def­i­nitely.’” It was just too in­tense. “Yeah, the bosses were not happy,” laughs Rosen­berg.

“It was sup­posed to be a big pop­corn movie. It wasn’t sup­posed to be a Cro­nen­berg film.”

Con Air pre­miered, ap­pro­pri­ately, at Las Ve­gas’ Hard Rock Ho­tel & Casino, which the plane crashes through dur­ing its fi­nal de­scent. Guests were flown in from LA on a 737 and, ar­riv­ing on the Tar­mac in Ve­gas, were shouted at by ‘prison guards’, who shoved them all onto fake prison buses with ba­tons, con­voys driv­ing them down the strip. At the Hard Rock, a replica of Con Air’s plane had been sup­pos­edly crashed into a pop-up cinema. Guests were led through the plane into a tun­nel which housed prison cells, be­hind which ‘pris­on­ers’ shouted at them and gave them pop­corn. Just be­fore show­time, guards shoved a pris­oner onto the stage, dressed in an or­ange jump­suit and wear­ing a spit guard. The prison of­fi­cers pulled off his spit guard, re­veal­ing Bruckheimer, who duly in­tro­duced the film.

Eric Mal­nic, writer of the ar­ti­cle that started it all off, was there. “To say that Touch­stone’s ver­sion of Con Air dif­fered some­what from mine — and from the re­al­ity of the fed­eral pris­oner trans­porta­tion sys­tem — would be an un­der­state­ment,’” he wrote in the Los An­ge­les Times. Bruckheimer, pro­mot­ing the film on the Char­lie Rose show, said, “We just added some drama and stretched re­al­ity a lit­tle bit.” Just a bit.


$224 mil­lion world­wide. Re­views were mixed, but most recog­nised the sheer fun of the thing; Em­pire gave it four stars, calling it “an adren­a­line blast of the high­est order… mag­ni­fy­ing ev­ery ex­cess to pre­vi­ously un­tapped lev­els”. While 1996’s

The Rock in­tro­duced Cage as an ac­tion star,

Con Air made a fully fledged, out­sized hero of him, and he made John Woo’s Face/off im­me­di­ately af­ter.

Rosen­berg has a mem­ory of West eat­ing lunch on set, be­ing given spaghetti sauce and say­ing, “More. More. More.” That, says Rosen­berg, sums up the film. “More and more crazy shit just kept hap­pen­ing. That was the di­rec­tive. It re­ally was a big, ab­surd en­ter­prise. But the fun and the ebul­lience and the feel­ing that none of us will ever get to make a film in this way again — I think you feel [that] on the screen.”

To Bruckheimer, it’s just “a fun romp”. None­the­less, he says he’s very heart­ened ev­ery time he reads about how much af­fec­tion peo­ple have for it. Rosen­berg, mean­while, is happy with haters, too. In a 2012 in­ter­view, Side­ways and Elec­tion di­rec­tor Alexan­der Payne was asked if films ever make him up­set, and he im­me­di­ately cited Con Air, calling it “com­pletely amoral”. Rosen­berg laughs heartily. “I would take that as truly the height of praise,” he claims. “Noth­ing makes me hap­pier than him say­ing it was amoral. Yeah, we got one through! We got an amoral film through the net.” A glee­ful, al­pha, bratty state­ment. Just like

Con Air it­self.

Poe mid-or­di­nary day at the of­fice.

Jerry Bruckheimer, Nic Cage et al ar­rive at the Ve­gas pre­miere in a cus­tomised Humvee.

West talks script with Cu­sack on lo­ca­tion.

Above: From sto­ry­board to screen: The plane crashes on the wrong kind of strip in Las Ve­gas. Left: Di­rec­tor Si­mon West on the minia­ture set.

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