Summer blockbusters like ''Con Air,'' ''My Best Friend's Wedding,'' and ''Face/Off'' mix truth with creative license


THE PREMISE: Con Air stars Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, and a cast of dozens as convicts whose attitudes (and crimes) range from bad to really bad. Herded onto a cargo plane for transfer to another prison, the inmates hijack the flight, and Cage, a parolee who is only trying to get home, finds himself caught in the middle.

THE TRUTH: While prisoners don’t get to watch in-flight movies, Bill Licatovich, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, says that inmates being transferred travel in relative comfort on one of three Boeing 727s (none of which contain cages, as envisioned by the makers of Con Air, although, if the convicts are Hannibal Lecter quality, they are either placed in every other seat in handcuffs and leg irons or flown alone on a smaller plane).

”Cage’s character would never be on a plane once he was released,” says script researcher Vanessa Kirby. ”It would be his responsibility to get to his parole officer.” As for the transport’s stark interiors, she explains, the filmmakers ”tried to incorporate what prison buses look like into the plane.” More comforting for civilians, perhaps, is the fact that out of some 98,000 prisoners flown every year by the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (or JPATS), ”there’s never been an escape or injury that I know of,” says Licatovich, and — if you haven’t seen the end of the movie, stop reading — ”there’s never been a plane that’s gone down.”


THE PREMISE: We first meet Julia Roberts on the job: A New York food critic, she sits calmly in a swank eatery with co-star Rupert Everett, while panicked members of the kitchen, aware of her presence, fly off the (pot) handle. When the specially prepared meal arrives at Roberts’ table, she announces to the staff how the review will read.

THE TRUTH: Screenwriter Ronald Bass is right about the heat in the kitchen when a critic is in the house, says chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who recently received four stars for his third New York restaurant, Jean Georges. ”The critic for The New York Times [Ruth Reichl] came nine times,” says Vongerichten. ”I wouldn’t let anyone touch anything, because if they made a mistake, I might kill them.” When the critic stood up to go to the bathroom just as her lobster was coming out of the kitchen, ”we grabbed it, threw it away, and started all over again,” Vongerichten admits.

But as for Roberts’ cooing at the coddling, New York magazine restaurant reviewer Gael Greene says her character’s behavior befits a movie star more than a critic. In real life, the task is to go as incognito as possible (despite Vongerichten’s insistence that most restaurateurs recognize reviewers). ”I always make a reservation under a different name with a different phone number,” Greene says. Some critics change their appearances with each visit — wearing a hat or a wig — but that would be a definite on-screen no-no for Roberts (think Mary Reilly). Finally, ethics dictate that a chef be left in suspense until the review appears.

Con Air
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