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I’ve watched Con Air twice in the last week. The first time, I was once again struck by how badass the line-up is, from top to bottom. It’s a rough crew of spitters and shitters. Gagging ‘em and bagging ‘em is the only real option. So, the second time I decided to weigh all of the information we’re given about each and order all the major characters from the least to the most badass.
How do you define badass? Well, it's a conglomeration of factors that ultimately tell me who I would and would not be willing to fuck with.
Figuring out the order proved surprisingly difficult for two reasons. First, I’m a bit obsessive compulsive and love the hell out of this movie too much not to order everyone perfectly. Second, there’s a lot of unusual personality types in play here. As such, I had to do my best to balance the strengths and weaknesses. In the end, I’m confident I nailed it.
Here is every major character in Con Air, ranked by how badass they are.
18) Little Casey PoeStrengths: Has good manners, owns colorful hair bows, completed Kindergarten.
Weaknesses: Almost certainly has daddy issues, is scared of boys with black teeth who call her names, probably can’t take a punch, lacks upper body strength, has tiny hands.
Analysis: Little Casey Poe is an unassuming child. Her arch nemesis is Scotty Dalton, and all she really wants is to see her father. In a straight up fight, she would be greatly disadvantaged against anyone on this list, both because she’s under four feet tall and because she lacks experience in hand to hand combat. Her little baby hands don't help either. All in all, I’m fairly certainly one medium-strength punch could put her in a coma.
17) Tricia PoeStrengths: Dynamite hair, has raised a child on her own, is fiercely loyal, probably uses the elliptical on a regular basis.
Weaknesses: Misses her husband, has a narrow frame, is more prone to crying than fighting.
Analysis: Tricia Poe is a bombshell. Random dudes in bars can’t get enough of her. More importantly, she’s a smart woman with a good head on her shoulders who stuck by her husband. That’s a good reason to trust her, even be friends with her, but sadly, no part of that nice girl nature will help her stare down a hardened criminal and hold her own in a donnybrook. I like her chances against local townswomen but not anyone else on this list. On the bright side, she seems to have her own personal Trisha Yearwood song, which is Shaft-level cool.
16) Sally Can’t DanceStrengths: Is tougher than she looks, has a great fashion sense, knows how to use a gun, is comfortable around hoodlums.
Weaknesses: Is easily shocked, lacks arm strength, isn’t overly helpful.
Analysis: It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to get respect as someone with a fluid idea of gender. It takes even more intestinal fortitude to get that respect among prisoners. Sally Can’t Dance is treated as an equal. She’s given a gun and she contributes. That being said, she’s not exactly going to win any cage fights. She’s not overly aggressive when it comes to finding conflict, and she prefers to stay out of the way. She's like a bonus prisoner. You don't rely on her, but you would rather have her around than not in a brawl.
15) DEA Agent Willie SimsStrengths: Has a secret gun, isn’t afraid of anyone, is willing to wear a wire, has a ton of law enforcement experience.
Weaknesses: Has a secret gun, is impulsive, puts himself in uncontrollable situations, can’t survive bullets.
Analysis: Probably my least favorite character in Con Air. Scratch that, probably everyone's least favorite character in Con Air, DEA Agent Willie Sims decides to enact his big, save-the-day-plan just seconds after Pinball frees him. Why that seemed like a good idea is anyone’s guess, but that speaks to the best and worst of the Agent. He’s willing to fight. He’s loaded to the teeth, but he has no long-term plan and hasn’t thought anything through at all. Oh, nothing makes me sadder than when the agent lost his bladder in the aiiiiiiir-plane.
14) Francisco CindinoStrengths: Super rich, firebombed a Senator’s yacht with two of his own cousins on board, is willing to doublecross anyone to serve his own purposes.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t like confrontation, is not flame-retardant, doesn’t hit the gym enough, asks a lot of dumb questions.
Analysis: Being rich opens a lot of doors, and the cartels aren’t just normal people rich, they’re flamboyantly rich. That’s why Cindino can employ The Virus and everyone else to do his dirty work and get him out of prison. Unfortunately, sometimes a man needs to roll up his sleeves and take care of his own business, and Cindino sucks on that front. He prefers to quietly betray people when they’re not looking or firebomb things from a distance, which is weak sauce. I also have a secret suspicion he's the type of dude who gets mad and kicks people in the ankles, which is probably the worst thing you can think about a person over the age of 6.
13) Vince LarkinStrengths: Has a great vocabulary, drives very quickly, thinks on his feet, knows how to operate a crane, can jump from a motorcycle to a moving fire truck
Weaknesses: Comes off as an annoying wiseass bookworm creep, probably off recycling his sandals or some shit, doesn’t have contingency plans for disasters like this.
Analysis: I appreciate that he steps it up at the end when he’s really needed by jumping on a motorcycle and kicking ass alongside Cameron. It takes balls and the help of movie stuntmen to do something like that, but we can’t ignore the fact that he spends the majority of the movie busting out words like "loquacious" and bellowing loudly about how things have gone to shit. Plus, just look at that face. He is definitely not the first person you would pick to have your back in a fight, nor is he the first person you would pick for kickball.
12) Guard FalzonStrengths: Has an army of guards at his disposal, has a pretty quick wit, isn’t afraid of anyone.
Weaknesses: Signed a no hostage clause, hates do-rags, is out of shape.
Analysis: During Guard Falzon’s younger days, I bet he was an animal, but too many years working in high end prisons have softened him up a little. He’s now middle-aged and wrongly assumes all of the security measures in place are 100% competent all the time, which is probably why he’s OK making fun of the prisoners for the fact they’ll never eat steak again or make love on the beach. No matter what a man has done, that's just heartless, especially given the quality of prison food. I’d put my money on Guard Falzon against most ordinary people, but when measured against a certain class of criminal, he just doesn’t hold up anymore.
11) Johnny 23Strengths: Has terrifying tattoos, knows how to fight, is played by Danny Trejo.
Weaknesses: Is a cowardly rapist, is ugly all day, can’t fly, is terrified of Garland Greene
Analysis: Look: Johnny-23 definitely knows how to fight. He’s comfortable with his fists. He’s spent plenty of time around dangerous men, and he clearly has no issue breaking the law. He’s not the type of guy I would want to meet in a dark alley, but he’s a rapist. Like Cyrus The Virus, I can’t condone that. It’s weak. It’s more morally abhorrent than any other crime not involving children, and the fact that his whole identity is built around that BS means he’s not as tough as he seems. Plus, he gets the shit kicked out of him a bunch in this movie.
10) Guard Sally BishopStrengths: Swings a gun with a reckless vengeance, can look out for herself, continually steps up and chooses action over inaction.
Weaknesses: Signed a no-hostage clause, sucks at freeing herself from confined positions, is probably too nice to the prisoners.
Analysis: She refuses to be called Lady. More importantly, she refuses to be raped by Johnny 23. She’s not your typical women in need in an action movie either. She actually helps out on several occasions. She hits Cyrus with a gun. She tells Agent Sims to just start firing his gun, and she defends herself when there’s a problem. Hard to find anything about her not to like, except maybe when she yells at Cameron for helping her. That's downright rude.
9) Duncan MalloyStrengths: Has a sweet car with a custom license plate, willing to crush a man’s larynx with his boot, world class screamer, loves confrontation.
Weaknesses: Poor people skills, lacks common sense, always thinks he’s right.
Analysis: Fueled by a hatred of the FBI, a hatred of thesauruses and a hatred of animal-like prisoners, Agent Malloy is always on the offensive. He’s the type of guy who would definitely throw the first punch, regardless of the potential consequences. That being said, he’s a suit and tie who doesn’t really get his hands dirty a whole lot. He’s been screaming behind a desk now for a lot longer than he was ever chasing criminals in the field; so, there’s a definite rust factor that prevents him from creeping higher up on this list.
8) PinballStrengths: Knows how to start fires, hell of a nice guy, flirts like a champion, knows how to hide a transponder.
Weaknesses: Mouth smells like someone shit in it, cannot survive airplane propellers, is a bit sensitive.
Analysis: Pinball is a home run character. Played by the loveable Dave Chappelle, he steals every moment of screentime he has, whether it’s through starting fires, slandering Native Americans or trying to sleep with a random woman in Carson City who has the prettiest eyes he's seen in about five to ten. You also have to love how he bills himself as an armed robber, arsonist and dope fiend. That’s the sign of a man who is a career criminal and knows his station in life. He's not changing; so, don't ask.
7) Baby-0Strengths: Guys got his back, pulls off the do-rag well, is unafraid of anyone, has excess amounts of bravery.
Weaknesses: Soft spot for pink coconut things, needs insulin or he will die.
Analysis: Baby-O is near death the entire trip on account of the insulin screw-up. That doesn’t stop him from trying to fight Johnny-23 and later walk straight at Cyrus The Virus who is wielding a gun, though. It’s all pretty badass, but because we don’t get to see him actually beating on some dudes during Con Air, it’s hard to rank him higher. Maybe, in an alternate universe, Baby-0 and Cameron would have both been healthy and took the plane back together.
6) Swamp ThingStrengths: Knows how to fly a plane, knows how to drive a fire truck, great with word play, has a sweet moustache, expert at crash landing.
Weaknesses: More of a follower than a leader, in mediocre shape, doesn’t wash his hair enough, perhaps too comfortable with being casually referred to as white trash.
Analysis: Swamp Thing is an invaluable addition to this little makeshift crime syndicate. This plot wouldn’t go anywhere without his help. He’s the one who knows how to fly the plane. He’s the one who knows little details like how to get rid of the transponder. He’s also a full blown badass willing to fight it out to the end. He doesn’t just give himself up with most of the others in Vegas. He gets in the fire truck and punches a few more times. You have to respect that.
5) Billy BedlamStrengths: Unstoppable bloodlust, can smell a rat immediately, hates with every ounce of his being.
Weaknesses: Full blown dumb, can’t control his anger, doesn’t know everyone on North Block, moments of levity cause him pain, won’t put the bunny back in the box.
Analysis: This is how you know Billy Bedlam is more than just your average monster. Instead of murdering his wife when he catches her cheating, he drives to her family’s house and murders all of them, even the family dog. That’s some next level sociopath shit. She’s always going to blame herself. Unfortunately for poor Billy, he doesn’t always pick and choose his battles very well, which is why he can’t play nice with Cameron and winds up impaled.
4) Nathan Diamond Dog JonesStrengths: Good with explosives, amateur philosopher, knows how to pick a lock, is a fan of torture, physically ripped, has a pretty light-hearted personality.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t understand the value of hostages, has some serious racial issues.
Analysis: First of all, why doesn’t this movie they reference with Denzel Washington as Diamond Dog actually exist? This is probably the greatest sequel idea I’ve ever heard. I love it and it needs to happen, certainly more than the crazy space idea needs to happen. Second of all, Diamond Dog is like an upgraded version of Cindino. He’s capable of using explosives, as he proved to the NRA, but he also loves getting his hands dirty too. He’s an equal opportunity killer, willing to use any method. God only knows what his long-term plans are once his "means to end" is achieved.
3) Garland "The Marietta Mangler" GreeneStrengths: Makes the Manson Family look like the Partridge Family, drove through 3 states wearing a girl’s head as a hat, might be the greatest philosopher since Freud.
Weaknesses: No medicine for his sickness, probably doesn’t weigh more than 120 pounds, leaves a witness in the form of that little girl.
Analysis: The Marietta Mangler is the only person that actually gets away, despite being the prisoner the cops should actually be worried about. That’s the crazy thing about Con Air. Everyone is terrified of Cyrus The Virus and Swamp Thing. Garland Greene is a full blown serial killer who murders other human beings for fun. That’s his end game. He doesn’t want money or power or acclaim. He just wants to hang out and murder people, which makes him the most dangerous person of all. He has nothing to lose, except the chance to make more head hats.
2) Cyrus The Virus GrissomStrengths: Extremely manipulative, possesses multiple degrees, claims he’s killed more men than cancer, speaks Spanish, knows how to pick a lock, is an expert bomb maker.
Weaknesses: Lost his mind according to his last psych evaluation, uses racially insensitive language, never learned anything from his father.
Analysis: As deranged, deadly and slick as criminals get, Cyrus The Virus is a perfect balance of long-term thinking and short-term scariness. He kills men for fun, for sport and to achieve larger goals. He’s highly organized. He sees multiple steps ahead, and he has the strength and determination to handle his own business, despite leading a small army of prisoners. He also thinks quickly on his feet, sets others on edge and would probably test at genius levels on an IQ exam. He's the perfect criminal.
1) Cameron PoeStrengths: Highly decorated US veteran, has a hot wife, never leaves a friend behind, schemes like a champion, will show you God does exist.
Weaknesses: Has trust issues, too pronounced of a moral compass, needs a haircut, because of pussies like him we lost Vietnam.
Analysis: Don’t mind Cameron. He’s just gonna head back to the plane and save the fucking day… because that’s how he roles. He’s not even trying that hard, really. He’s just got a buddy he needs to save and a guard he needs to stop from being raped and his gigantic muscles, Army ranger training, advanced level scheming and an unwillingness to lose will get him there in under two hours. They should have just let him and Baby-O off the plane when they had the chance. That was the only way the end result ever would have been different.