"They somehow managed to get every freak and creep in the universe on this one plane, and then somehow managed to let them take it over, and then they somehow managed to stick us right smack in the middle."
—Cameron Poe, summarizing the movie for us.
Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) loves his wife. Just ask the drunk he killed in the course of defending said wife Tricia Poe (Monica Potter) when she was pregnant, earning him seven to ten years in prison. He loves his daughter Casey (Landry Allbright), too, taking time every day in prison to communicate with both of them and making sure that he leaves prison a better man than he entered. Cameron Poe is now on parole, and on his way home to see his family. It will be his daughter's seventh birthday.
Cameron Poe is a nice guy. Just don't threaten his family. And especially don't try to keep him from them.
Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) is about to learn this. He doesn't know Poe from Adam, but he is about to hijack the prisoner transport plane that is going to take Poe home to see his family. He is about to learn two very hard lessons...
Don't mess with Cameron Poe.
And never, ever threaten the bunny.
- Affably Evil: Swamp Thing.
- And Your Little Dog, Too: "Before I kill you, I'll let you know that the last thing that little Casey Poe will ever smell will be my stinking breath." Oh, it's on...
Poe: "You're not getting near my daughter. Buckle up!" (cuffs Cyrus just as the truck they're riding crashes)
- Apple of Discord: Poe attempts this when asking why a militant black man like Diamond Dog is taking orders from a skinhead white guy. It fails when Diamond Dog explicitly says he's The Starscream.
- Author Tract: Malloy and Larkin spend a great deal of time arguing about the effectiveness of the American penal system.
- Award Bait Song / Breakaway Pop Hit: "How Do I Live" by Trisha Yearwood, who covered the first cut by LeAnn Rimes.
- Badass Nickname: Pretty much all the criminals have them.
- Big Damn Heroes:
Cameron Poe: "What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the fuckin' day."
- Black Best Friend: Baby-O.
- Blown Across the Room: Averted. Poe doesn't even blink when he takes a shot to the shoulder, let alone fly backwards.
- Brick Joke: Garland Greene is unaccounted for after the ending plane crash. We don't see any of him until right before the credits... when he turns out to have made an absolute fortune gambling in Vegas.
- Bring My Brown Pants: Cyrus told Larkin (via radio) that the undercover agent pissed his pants after he shot him.
Cyrus (singing): "Ohhhh, nothing makes me sadder than the agent lost his bladder in the... aaaiiiirrrrrplane!"
- Bullying a Dragon: Poe winds up in prison because three general lowlifes attack a soldier who is wearing Ranger tabs. The thought process there probably involved a tremendous amount of alcohol. Probably for the best.
- Bury Your Gays: Subverted. Sally-Can't-Dance is one of the few survivors.
- But he was the first to get re-arrested.
- Camp Gay: Sally Can't Dance.
- Car Cushion: Pinball falls from the plane onto a moving car.
- Cassandra Truth: Larkin: "A body fell from the sky with a note on it." Malloy and Larkin's boss just laugh him off.
- Chekhov's Gun: Malloy's car.
- Chekhov's Speech: When the cons skid to a halt at Lerner Airfield, Diamond Dog is about to execute three prison guards. Poe tries to reason with Diamond Dog not to kill them until the cons board the second plane with Cindino, the cons' contact at the airfield. Poe argues that Cindino may not be one to be trusted based on what Poe knows of Cindino's history. Diamond Dog is unconvinced until Cyrus interrupts the exchange. Poe tries the same argument with Cyrus and convinces him. Cyrus orders Diamond Dog to stand down and for the cons to dig and pull their plane out from the dirt. Its relevance to the story seems minimal until it turns out that Poe was right; Cindino planned to double-cross the cons all along. This scene was clever in hindsight because Poe was simply trying to save the guards' lives, and may have actually made up his Cindino story in an attempt to break the partnership, and thus prevent the cons from escaping to Mexico before the authorities show up.
- Contrived Coincidence: Cameron Poe gets released from prison on his daughter's birthday, only to wind up on a plane hijacked by inmates, and is forced to stop them because his Black Best Friend is trapped on the plane will die if he doesn't get off and receive insulin. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg...
- Lampshaded in the page quote.
- Cool Car
Malloy: "Sunsets are beautiful. Newborn babies are beautiful. This, this is fucking spectacular."
- Cowboy Cop: Malloy.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Cyrus dies by being chained to the ladder of a speeding fire engine, hurled through a bridge and onto some electrical wires, and finally getting his head crushed in a rock crusher.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Cryus has a moment of this. His Politically-Incorrect Villain line about Pinball is said while the DEA agent on the plane is using him as a Human Shield. Once the situation is resolved, to the detriment of said agent, Pinball retrieves the agent's gun and asks if Cyrus meant it. Cyrus has Pinball relinquish the gun, then confirms that he did.
- Death by Looking Up: Cyrus Grissom vs. rock crusher.
- Description Porn: Larkin describes Billy Bedlam, Diamond Dog and Cyrus the Virus but skimps when it comes to Poe.
- Disproportionate Retribution: "He caught his wife in bed with another man, left them alone, drove four towns over to his wife's family's house. Killed her parents, her brothers, her sisters, even her dog."
- Dissonant Serenity: Garland Greene, though he might actually be on anti-psychotics at the time.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Pinball meets a cute girl while stashing the transponder and forgets to get back on the plane.
- Empathy Doll Shot
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- Cyrus Grissom despises rapists.
Cyrus: "Can you fly, Johnny?"
- Diamond Dog is scared out of his mind by Garland Greene and doesn't like having to be the one to release him from his restraints.
- Fake-Out Opening: The film begins with a montage about the US Army Rangers.
- Freudian Slip
Pinball: "I work for the Department of Erec... Corrections".
- Honor Before Reason: Cameron Poe is a former Army Ranger, and refuses to leave a fallen man behind and a female prison guard to be raped and tortured by Johnny 23, even if it means going home to his family alive.
- Idiot Ball: The pilot of the plane, learning that there was a fire and a probable disturbance on his plane, does the right thing and trips the alarm and alerts Carson City (their next stop) of a problem on board. What does he do next? Instead of locking the cockpit door where they would be safe (the inmates were extensively searched for any and all weapons) and landing ASAP the pilot tells the co-pilot to get a GUN and check it out. Granted, without that serious misstep in judgment the movie would not happen but that is the result of someone grabbing the Idiot Ball.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: "Nobody gives a flying fuck! Get it?! FLYING fuck?!"
- Informed Attribute: Garland Greene had supposedly killed more people than any convict on the plane, and had the absolute highest amount of security for transporting him. However, whilst he definitely alludes to having formerly killed people, we never really see any of his murderous aspects on-screen, to the point where it looks like he just might have been cured of them.
- It's heavily implied that he murdered one of the guards, and that doing so made him "feel better".
- Inspector Javert: Malloy has trouble believing Poe (or any convict) is good.
- Irony: As the inmates dance to "Sweet Home Alabama", Garland Greene defines irony as "a bunch of idiots dancing around on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash."
- I Won't Say I'm Guilty: Averted. Poe pleads guilty at the advice of his idiot attorney.
- Jerkass: Agent Malloy.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He admits in the end that shooting down the plane would have been a bad idea.
- Karma Houdini: Garland Greene, though all his villainy is in his backstory.
- During the movie Garland instinctively realizes Poe is a good guy pretending to be a hard con, and has a lengthy dialogue about ironic situations about how a good man has to act evil to survive. The fact that Garland intentionally leaves a little girl alive during the plane refueling hints that by the end of the movie Garland has decided to act good.
- Karmic Death: When his dead body is found, Johnny 23's tattooed arm is detached from his body, but still shackled in his cage.
- Large Ham/World of Ham: Everyone. Cage is in good company here.
- The Last Thing Your Daughter Smells: You know what? That makes Poe mad.
- Lunatic Loophole: At the end, when all the other convicts have either been arrested or killed, Garland Greene just walks away.
- Made of Explodium: Trope Exemplar.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Cameron Poe doesn't break stride even when one of the other convicts shoots his shoulder.
- Meaningful Name: Johnny 23, so named because he was convicted of 23 counts of rape. He claimed to raped more than 23 women, though.
- Name Face Mismatch Poster
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Cyrus the Virus.
- Nice Guy: Cameron Poe.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Cameron Poe is an awesome Rambo Jesus that way.
- Pet Homosexual: Sally Can't Dance.
- Planning with Props: Cyrus demonstrates the plan to surround the police convoy using soda cans, engine parts and debris.
- What about that rock?
- That's a rock.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Cyrus the Virus towards Pinball & Baby-O.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Cy..." "...onara!"
- The Precious Precious Car: Malloy's car.
- Prison Ship
- Punctuated Pounding: "You don't... treat... women... like...that!"
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Johnny 23 gets this line thrown in his face by Cyrus.
Cyrus" "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. But, in your case, I'll make an exception."
- Rasputinian Death: The ultimate fate of Cyrus the Virus. Wait - I think he just twitched...
- Refuge in Audacity: Lampshaded by Poe when the airplane tows a car through the air. "On any other day, that might seem strange."
- For unknown reasons this was changed in the German version to "Funny that's exactly my type of car." Still fits, but makes one wonder why they changed it?
- Revenge by Proxy: Billy Bedlam's revenge on his cheating wife.
- Scary Black Man: Diamond Dog. Strangely, he's one of the most well-spoken characters in the entire movie, and wrote a best-selling book.
- Schmuck Bait: "Do Not Open" really means do not open.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: John Cusack's Marshal Vince Larkin is a Trope Codifier.
Larkin: [Cindino's] known to be somewhat garrulous in the company of thieves.
- Shipped in Shackles: Garland Green was introduced while restrained in a manner similar to Hannibal Lector, complete with mask. This was likely intentional.
- Sissy Villain: Sally Can't Dance again.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Pinball falls off the plane to the tune of "A Summer Place". Also Garland Greene singing "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" while the plane crashes.
- The Starscream: Diamond Dog admits he is one of these to Poe, saying he'll go along with Cyrus and follow his orders until he doesn't need him anymore, and then "the Day of the Dog begins."
- Strawman Political: Malloy keeps accusing Larkin of being this.
Malloy: "Of course you can't reach [Larkin]! He's probably off saving the rainforests, or recycling his sandals or some shit!"
- Tempting Fate: Larkin's assistant hopes nothing goes wrong. He replies that the plane is a well-oiled machine.
"All they'll have to worry about is stale peanuts and a little turbulence."
Cyrus: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have the only gun on board. Welcome to Con Air!"
- Too Dumb to Live: A prison guard and his superior are left to guard Cyrus's prison cell, with clear orders from Larkin not to touch anything in the hidden compartment they just helped uncover. They proceed ignore him completely, grabbing a box in the compartment and opening it despite the words "DO NOT OPEN" written across the top. They are ordered by Larkin not to The Captain goes to fetch the bomb squad, ordering the prison guard to not open the box. Boom.
- Trans Equals Gay: Sally Can't Dance acts much more like a transwoman than a gay man, but is treated as such by the rest of the cast and apparently the editors of this very wiki.
- Unflinching Walk: Played with. The cons are walking away from an burning plane, only to jump when it actually explodes... except, of course, Cyrus. Later in the film, Poe walks towards a gun-toting con after the plane crashes and is on fire, taking a bullet in the shoulder without pausing.
- Up to Eleven: Everyone's story, but especially Garland Greene. You can't just have a Hannibal-like psychopath, he has to have "driven through three states wearing a girl's head as a hat."
- Vanity License Plate: AZZ-KIKR.
- Video Credits: With everyone happy and laughing with "Sweet Home Alabama" as BGM.
- Villainous Breakdown: Cyrus, usually very composed and in control, standing on the open ramp of the plane in flight, holding a pistol to the head of the bunny, yelling at an assault chopper.
- Viva Las Vegas: Where the bad guys plan to land in, and where the plane crashes.
- Watch the Paint Job
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Larkin's boss not only disappears three quarters of the way through the film, he disappears in the middle of a scene. Right after he, Malloy, and Larkin overlook the damage done to Malloy's car, only Malloy and Larkin are seen running back to the choppers. You might think he just wasn't in the shot, but he's never seen again after that.
- Sort of happens with Johnny 23. Poe knocks him out and chains him to the ceiling, but no one calls attention to it once they get back on the plane. He isn't brought up again until the police find his corpse, still chained to that spot (part of it, anyway).
- Wife-Basher Basher: See Even Evil Has Standards. Though subverted in that Cyrus is more than willing to strike said officer himself to escape the plane.
- Cyrus was only opposed to raping said woman, striking or even killing her might have been completely okay for him.
- Played completely straight with Nice Guy Cameron Poe when he catches Johnny trying to do just that. See Punctuated Pounding, wherein he slams the bastard's head repeatedly into a bulkhead while teaching him Chivalry 101.
"DON'T! TREAT! WOMEN! LIKE! THAT!"
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: During his Foe-Tossing Charge, the last person on the line is Sally-Can't-Dance, who is - depending on your interpretation - either Camp Gay or a trans woman. Poe nearly punches him, hesitates, then slaps instead. Sally-Can't-Dance makes an appropriately girly yelp and falls off-camera.