"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."
Swamp Thing is such a jolly, good-humored sort that you almost forget that he's an integral part in a scheme to bust out a planeload of mass murderers, terrorists, and gangsters. He's a drug smuggler himself, but even his actor defends him, pointing out that he didn't kill anyone or get in their faces...
Alone with the Psycho: Subverted. The creepy serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) is having a one-on-one session with a little girl. After a cutaway, we see him walk off with the girl's doll, implying that she's dead. But a subsequent scene shows her well off.
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.
Big Bad Duumvirate: Cyrus "The Virus" Grissum and Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones. Nathan is technically taking orders from Cyrus, but they both have equal authority and Nathan admits he is only doing so for the time being.
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.
When the cons arrive at Lerner Airfield, they have a near collision with another pilot there. They spook him and he runs off into the desert. Later when they leave, he's still running through the desert.
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: Averted. Sally-Can't-Dance is one of the few survivors. He was however the first to get re-arrested.
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: Lampshaded in the page quote. 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...
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.
Johnny 23 dies (or so we must assume) when one or both of his handcuffed arms are torn from the rest of his body.
Garland Greene was particularly fond of these, bragging about sawing a woman's head off and wearing it as a hat for days.
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 the agent, Pinball retrieves the agent's gun and asks if Cyrus meant it. Cyrus has Pinball relinquish the gun, then confirms that he did.
Description Porn: Larkin describes Billy Bedlam, Diamond Dog and Cyrus the Virus but skimps when it comes to Poe.
Disproportionate Retribution: Paraphrased from the movie: Billy Bedlam caught his wife in bed with another man. He left them alone, but drove four towns over to his wife's family's house. He proceeded to kill her parents, her brothers, her sisters, and evenher 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.
Dragon with an Agenda: Cameron Poe asks black supremacist Diamond Dog why he's content to be second in command to white Big Bad Cyrus Grissom. Dog replies that while his long term agenda is vastly different from that of Cyrus, he needs to escape before he can get back to it — going along with Cyrus is "a means to an end".
Freudian Slip: Pinball meets a pretty girl, and pretends to be a prison guard.
Pinball: "I work for the Department of Erec... Corrections".
Genre Savvy: The pilot reminding Cyrus that they wouldn't be able to land the plane if they killed him.
Genuine Human Hide: Garland Greene claims he once killed a little girl and then drove through the state wearing her face as a hat.
Good News, Bad News: Pinball has to find three white convicts named Carl, Benson, and Popovich, because they need to deliver them to the unsuspecting guards below to keep up the ruse that nothing is wrong on the plane. The goods news is that Pinball found all three of them. The bad news is that they all died in the scuffle in taking over the plane and the DEA Agent's attempt to retake it, making them three men short.
He's Dead, Jim: The barkeeper checking on the switch-knife punk Poe killed in melee.
Hollywood Law: This was a very clear case of self defense, and the judge's reasoning of Poe being a "human weapon" for throwing the book at him despite a guilty plea should've been laughed out of an appeals court. But that would've ruined the film, now, wouldn't it?
Also with respect to the venue. Why would a case like this be adjudicated in a federal civilian court? It should be dealt with in an Alabama state court, or in a military court-martial (assuming that he was technically still in the Army).
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 keeping quiet would mean freedom.
Morality Pet: Poe specifically states that he couldn't face his daughter if he didn't act this way.
Human Shield: Discussed and applied by Cyrus during the shootout between him and the DEA agent on board.
Cyrus: "You know, the next time you choose a human shield, you're better off not picking a two-bit negro crackhead."
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 still implied that he murdered one of the guards, and that doing so made him "feel better".
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. One wonders how Cyrus's ingenious escape plan would have fared without this error in judgment.
It's possible to chock it up to a bit of Fridge Brilliance. Cyrus is clearly familiar with Molloy, and knows the plane is Molloy's personal project... thus the hand-picked staff like the pilots are those more likely to tend towards Molloy's own personality profile: aggressive and shortsighted.
Infant Immortality: Played straight. It seems like Garland Greene, who is touted as a horrific serial killer, is about to kill the little girl he runs into near the abandoned airfield, but he doesn't.
Isn't It Ironic?: 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."
Some Meta: The plane Skynyrd was on was a Convair 240. The actual plane used for filming, a Fairchild C-123 Provider, was later sold to a private air transport company and involved in a fatal crash in Alaska in 2010.
Jerkass Has a Point: When the plane's about to crash, Malloy points out that civilian casualties could be enormous, which could've been avoided had they shot the plane down in the desert, and considering the plane crashes right in the middle of the Las Vegas strip...yeah, a lot of people would definitely be dead.
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.
When his dead body is found, Johnny 23's tattooed arm is detached from his body, but still shackled in his cage.
As Pinball tries to get the plane to stop so he can get on, the only prisoner to see him is the Native American whom he picked on and set on fire. Naturally, he doesn't tell anyone what he saw, indirectly causing Pinball's death.
No Sell: Near the ending, Poe walks towards the Big Bad who destroyed his peaceful ride home. A nearby con raises his gun and shoots at the striding Poe, who gets hit in the upper arm. He just keeps walking and kicks the con's ass.
Not Quite Dead: Apparently the plane crash in Vegas didn't kill off all the bad guys and they manage to escape with a firetruck.
Offstage Villainy: Garland Greene is presented as one of the most horrific and prolific serial killers who ever lived, and is certainly feared by the other criminals, but all his crimes occurred before his introduction. He boasts of killing a little girl and wearing her face as a Genuine Human Hide, yet he thankfully refrains from killing a girl he runs into. The end rather implies that he's gone good, but his past crimes this still makes him an extremeKarma Houdini.
Politically Incorrect Hero: The prison guard in charge of transporting the prisoners calls Pinball "the skinniest Negro I have ever seen".
Politically Incorrect Villain: Both members of the Big Bad Duumvirate are notable racists. Cyrus the Virus says a lot of racist comments toward Pinball and Baby-O, later clarifying to Pinball that he meant it. Diamond Dog is a black supremacist terrorist who believes that all white people are inherently evil. However, both of them are still pragmatic enough to team up with each other, if only for the time being.
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."
And when he actually does try something with the female police officer on board and Cameron Poe gets hold of him, well...see Punctuated Pounding above.
Rasputinian Death: The ultimate fate of Cyrus the Virus. Wait - I think he just twitched...
Red Baron: Some of the cons have nasty-sounding nicknames applied to them.
Scary Black Man: Diamond Dog. He's a Malcolm Xerox without the glasses or the soapbox. Strangely, he's one of the most well-spoken characters in the entire movie, and wrote a best-selling book. And was interviewed by Geraldo. And there was talk in-story about a movie being made about him, with "Denzel" being cast to play him.
Schmuck Bait: The cops are investigating the stuff Cyrus left behind his cell wall planning out the plane hijacking. Vince leaves the cell, and tells the guards not to touch anything. They see that one of the boxes is marked "Do Not Open". The bomb inside it explodes when they open it.
Serial Rapist: The inmate Johnny 23 (played by Danny Trejo) is named for his twenty-three counts of rape. Cyrus "the Virus" Grissom, the resident Big Bad, despises him, making a point of telling him to keep it in his pants when around the only female guard, or "you jump out of this plane." He boasts to said female guard, "They'd call me Johnny 600 if they knew the truth", and later tries to attack her, leading to a very well-deserved beatdown from Cameron Poe.
Larkin: [Cindino's] known to be somewhat garrulous in the company of thieves. Malloy: Garrulous? What the fuck is garrulous? Larkin: That would be loquacious, verbose, effusive. How about "chatty"? Malloy: [to Devers] What's with Dictionary Boy? Larkin: "Thesaurus Boy", I think, is more appropriate.
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.
Spontaneous Human Combustion: Invoked; after Pinball intentionally sets a fellow prisoner on fire in order to create a distraction for the other more dangerous prisoners about to attempt to hijack the plane, in the middle of all the confusion Pinball humorously exclaims that this was an act of spontaneous combustion.
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."
The Stinger: After the fade to black, Garland Greene is shown having a drink at the Craps tables.
Tempting Fate: It's discussed what a brilliant idea it was to put all of the most dangerous criminals in the country on the same plane. 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."
There Is a God!: As the diabetic black guy is dying on the plane, he tells Nicholas Cage's character that sometimes he wonders if there's a God. Cage's characters tells him he'll show him there is one, and then starts kicking Con butt.
Title Drop: Upon taking over the plane, Cyrus gets on the intercom and announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have the only gun on board. Welcome to Con Air!"
Too Dumb to Live: A pair of guards are left to watch over Cyrus's prison cell, with clear orders from Larkin not to touch anything in the hidden compartment they just uncovered. They proceed ignore him completely, opening a box with the words "DO NOT OPEN" written across the top. Kaboom.
Played with. The cons are walking away from an burning plane, only to jump when it actually explodes... except, of course, Cyrus. Poe was a bit closer to the plane, so he has to Outrun the Fireball at the same time.
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."
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.
Wild Goose Chase: When the convicts remove the plane's tracking device and places it on a scenic tours flight.
Wife-Basher Basher: Cameron Poe becomes one when he catches Johnny trying to rape a female guard. See Punctuated Pounding, wherein he slams the bastard's head repeatedly into a bulkhead while teaching him Chivalry 101.
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.