All hail Simon West, Scott Rosenberg and Jerry Bruckheimer‘s Con Air, which is over a quarter-century old now. (Damn near 27 years.) I re-watched it last night with Jett, and it’s still one of the greatest sociopathic action comedies ever made. There’s a perverse satiric thrust built into almost every damn scene, which is one reason why I feel it’s among the best Jerry Bruckheimer flicks ever made.

I’ve been saying this from the get-go but it can’t hurt to repeat: Con Air is a blend of ultra-slick action-movie chops along with an attitude of subversive genre parody. It’s primarily a wickedly funny and (at times) almost surreal conceptual comedy, and secondarily an action thriller. It’s a very handsomely shot and well-edited thing but there’s barely a single sincere line in Rosenberg’s entire script.

And let’s remember that it wasn’t all Rosenberg — Con Air was punched up by a crew of pinch-hitting screenwriters, which was also how The Rock, Gone in Sixty Seconds and Crimson Tide came together.

Con Air plays the big-budgeted action thriller game while mocking and toying with big-budget machismo at every turn. Not in a silly spoof way but using a kind of flip, inside-baseball attitude. As if the people who were paid to put it together — gifted, too-hip-for-the-room writers with jaded nihilist attitudes — felt vaguely befouled for working on a project so caked with cynicism and Hollywood corruption, and decided to inject snide, subversive humor as a form of therapy.

The marvel of Con Air is that the mixture of this attitude with cold action-movie efficiency (this being one of those happy-accident movies that occur every so often) also worked as entertainment because the movie included you in — it made you feel as if you were laughing with it, not at it.

Comment from “jimjonesiii” (posted on 10.2.08): “I`m a fat redneck ape and I approve this movie.”

I love John Malkovich‘s performance as Cyrus the Virus — every line and body gesture says “this time out I’m a total paycheck whore, but you’ll also notice I’m very good at this sort of dry attitude comedy.”

I’ll always chuckle at the buffed-up Nic Cage at his most comically stalwart and sincere. And at John Cusack‘s smarty-pants dialogue and his dopey sandal shoes. And that scene of Dave Chappelle‘s frozen body dropping from 10,000 feet and landing on an old couple’s car hood. (Chappelle was 25 or 30 pounds lighter in ’97, and he had hair!) Cage’s “Don’t mess with the bunny” line. Steve Buscemi defining the word irony. Colm Meaney‘s muscle car (a Sting Ray) getting dropped from 2000 feet up. That idiotic Las Vegas plane-crash finale. Ridiculous but all fun, all the time.

Rosenberg once recalled that Bruckheimer wasn’t pleased with the climax Rosenberg had come up with. Rosenberg, being a typically egoistic writer, got defensive and snarky. Rosenberg: “Jesus…c’mon, Jerry, what more could you want from this thing? What do you want me to do…crash the fucking plane down the strip in Vegas?” Bruckheimer: “Yes! Perfect!”

Con Air is a remnant of an era in which Jerry Bruckheimer movies briefly flirted with with this special signature attitude — i.e., mocking the big-budget action genre and at the same time kicking ass with it.

Con Air was partly Rosenberg, of course, but also partly from Jerry’s own attitude at the time as he hadn’t yet come into his own and was still working to some extent with the legacy and attitude of late partner Don Simpson . And partly from the Clinton era zeitgeist, partly from the luck of the draw, partly good fortune.

The Jerry Bruckheimer who made this film in ’96-’97 would have howled at the absurdity of making a Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

I will defend Con Air until the cows come home. It’s expensive guy-movie junk in a sense — one that simultaneously chokes on its own cynicism and yet makes you laugh at the absurdity of making movies of this sort, and yet put together with great care and precision and polish.

Bruckheimer used to say “I make guy movies but I don’t serve hamburger — I serve first-rate steak.” Con Air is like a pricey, perfectly cooked marbled T-bone in a great restaurant in old town Buenos Aires or downtown Chicago or the east 50s in Manhattan.

I hold Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Crimson Tide and The Rock in roughly the same regard. All four are among my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movies. Those were the days. Jerry doesn’t make ’em like this any more.

P. Vice“, posted on 10.2.08: “I love it. First we decry the unwashed apes and their pathetic taste in movies, then we praise shit like Con Air which is a movie about apes, made by apes for…you guessed it…apes. Hypocrites, one and all.

“And besides, Armageddon is clearly the real deal when it comes to slyly satirizing genre conventions while satisfying them with a straight face. Simon West doesn’t deserve scraps from Michael Bay‘s dinner table.”

LexG, posted on 10.2.08: “CON AIR = COMPLETE, TOTAL and WHOLESALE MEGAAAAAA-OWNAGE. I love that score. Especially the part that goes TSEW, TSEW, TSEW, TSEW over and over again. MASTERPIECE. And also the only time Scott Rosenburg’s weakness for wack-ass character names was amusing. DIAMOND DOG is somehow awesomely stupid, yet MR. SHHHHHHH and MAN WITH THE PLAN is just straight-up EMBARASSING.”

Nick Rogers,” posted on same date: “Con Air contains some of the most subversive, and entertaining, ‘slumming’ performances I’ve ever seen. Wells, don’t feel guilty about liking this at all. Can’t say I agree with you about Gone in 60 Seconds (too much talking, not enough carjacking), but this is a brilliant post.”