Director Simon West hits just the right note between self-conscious silliness and real dramatic intensity in this 1997 action thriller, which uses typecast actors to make the characters' one-liners and predictable behavior resonate. John Malkovich adeptly parodies his previous roles as a devious manipulator or crafty psycho, and Steve Buscemi manages running allusions to Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs without sacrificing his own idiosyncratic screen presence. They're part of a band of hard-core inmates—men so notorious they're regulars on the talk-TV circuit—whose escape attempt surprises the U.S. marshal (John Cusack) supervising their transport to a new prison. Nicolas Cage plays an unlucky soldier and parolee who finds himself on the ill-fated plane; when his peers run amok he rises to the occasion. The essence of the success of Scott Rosenberg's exploitation script is Cage's performance—like everything else in the movie it's both cheeky and tongue-in-cheek because it's so far over-the-top.
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