Artisan // 2001 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 6th, 2002
Two cold war rivals in hot pursuit!
A rogue Russian rapscallion (as if Moscow produces any other kind) uses random acts of terror to advance his cause, which is never fully explained. Turns out that this ex-Commie is pursuing some lethal stank gas and he is NOT willing to eat beet soup to get it. An ersatz Natasha Fatale has been tracking the crazy Kremlinite for her own, private reasons...which are never fully explained. During a fouled up FBI warehouse sting, a brash customs agent (like feds aren't already genetically cloned to be impetuous) and his elite duty-free strike force are implicated and castigated, again for reasons which are never fully explained. The confiscated toxins end up on a night train into the pristine, unspoiled Yukon terror-tory. After plane crashes and parachutes, everyone gets frostbite tracking the railcars containing the canisters of chemical chaos. Soon, our Soviet saboteur and his crew of crackpot shots are engaged in a random locomotive gun battle with Marines and the guy who punches your Items to Declare form. The army sends fighter planes to throw yellow snow onto the fugitive freighter, a sly plot twist is unveiled in the last minutes, and for reasons that are never fully explained, the whole movie is told in flashback during a job interview!
Those who like a little brainteaser with their cinema will find Con Express a real cranial workout. Not because the plot is so well crafted or the issues raised that thought provoking. No, you will rack your sack trying to decipher just what footage from other, better (?) action movies has been acquiesced and spliced into this failed flat-lining fallacy. (For the answer key: look to the closing credits). It will probably be the only entertainment you'll glean after spending your evening digesting Powder Meets the Mummy. The film is like the frigid Alaskan wilderness: barren, boring, and able to kill you if exposed to it for too long. Actually, Con Express is not lethal, just pedestrian. It wants to offer intrigue and stunning stunt set pieces in a beautiful, feral backdrop. But instead of inspiring awe or adrenaline, it provokes countless yawns. It's incredibly formulaic and asks nothing more of its actors than to speak clearly and look interested. Most of them do, especially Sean Patrick Flanery, doing a Michael J. Madsen-Fox imitation. He must be ecstatic he's not doused in white face, making people weep as he merges with the infinite. Con Express does take a daring stance, one that's rather novel and unusual for a thriller. By deciding not to show a single spectacular crash or special effect shot for longer than .003 seconds, all fears of overwhelming the audience with wham-bam visuals are neatly quashed.
Artisan aids the cause of concealment by offering a total tube filling full screen version of Con Express, allowing impressive fireballs and choreographed stunt work to disappear out of frame. When we actually get to SEE scenes shot for Con Express, the image is just fine. Those playing the "find a flick" home game will recognize the grainy, rancid random shots from other films since they are noticeably dark and dirty. The sound, even with Dolby Digital stereo, is middling at best, though the dialogue in all its minimal mediocrity is perfectly clear. For an extra, we get one minute and thirty seconds of what was probably a two or two and a half minute trailer. After the title comes on, the teaser just ends, like the projectionist had to go off and take a whiz or something. Not that a ninety-minute trailer would help the painful gnashing of nerves that occurs when one witnesses Con Express. It's a film with advanced locomotive breath. While a cut above, say, your Aunt Ida's slide show of her trip to the Lesser Antilles, it can't hold a coal car to other cat-and-mouse Chessie System classics like Poison on the Orient Express or Thomas the Murdering Bastard Tank Engine.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R