Con Express (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Since Russia and the USA became buddies, and filmmakers don't want to offend Middle Easterners, all of the international thrillers have this basic plot:


Ursula Karven shows her breasts in good light, when she drops her towel for her American partner.

A rogue Russian general wants either to re-start the Cold War for his own reasons, or simply to take over the world for fun and profit. Agents of the legitimate Russian government have to team with their American counterparts in order to overcome the threat, thus creating an atmosphere for many internecine squabbles and the exposure of virulent, unburied rivalries. Yet they eventually learn to get along, and often even to fall in love before wiping out the rogue general's evil task force. There is usually a renegade American agent somewhere in the mix as well, and his or her perfidy is usually a last reel surprise. Often, the Russian leader can't reveal that the rogue is out of his control, for fear of eroding his own power base. (This is also the general plot of the recent Ben Affleck thriller The Sum of all Fears.)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • full-screen format

  • no meaningful features

Con Express also has that plot, more or less, and it is not especially well done, certainly not worth your time. The rogue Russian general (played by The Mummy dude with a Boris Badenov accent) commandeers a speeding train filled with the most powerful chemical weapon known to man. One drop can destroy a quantity of matter equal to everything Marlon Brando has ever eaten. A single molecule dropped into the drinking water of Seattle would destroy Starbucks forever. One sniff can turn Rush Limbaugh into a member of the Oprah Book Club. Yadda, yadda.

It's a formulaic non-theatrical release, presented in a full-screen DVD with no features.


Con Express (2002) is a Blockbuster direct to vid with the way over-used "evil Russian general selling evil things to the bad guys" plot. Soviet agent Ursula Karven and American treasury agent Sean Patrick Flanery have to stop him. They do ... the end. That premise, even though we know the story as soon as it starts, could still make for a watchable actioner. This one went way out of its way to screw it up.

As the film opens, Flanery is being interviewed for his boss's job, and the interviewers want to go over his last case in detail to make sure he is one of the good guys. So, right off the bat, this expository trick ruined all chances of suspense. He is being interviewed after the case is closed, and so, obviously survived. Not only that, but the mere fact that he and the two interviewers are alive shows that the deadly nerve gas didn't escape or fall into terrorist hands. They shamelessly mentioned September 11 in the opening sequence, and the name Con Express, probably taken from the Yukon Express train which figured prominently in the chase sequence, was more than likely trying to capture some of the name recognition from Con Air. At any rate, the purpose of the interview is to take a hard look at the details of the case, to see if Flanery is on the up and up, so we are invited to scrutinize every detail of the case with the interviewers.

So, how did they do with a believable case? Here are a few of the "lowlights." Early in the film, the rogue Russian General speaks English over a radio to a helicopter pilot, who answers in Russian. The general is hoping nobody will find out that he is still alive after a plane crash, so broadcasting this Russian language radio chatter is not the world's smartest move. Even though the general is cuffed in the back of an FBI plane, he manages to parachute out from high altitude, and land within easy walking distance of a waiting vehicle. Flanery explains all of this in detail, even though he wasn't there, and everyone who was there is dead. The escape and plane crash were caused when the male flight attendant on this FBI transport gave the passengers knockout drops in their cocktails. Not only do they have cocktails and flight attendants on an FBI transport, but the plane doesn't have a co-pilot, and so crashes when the pilot is shot. The Russian agent, of course, is a trained pilot, and manages to crash land safely.

She and Flanery manage to walk to an abandoned but fully furnished cabin, break up a single chair for firewood, take off their clothes to dry, and stay warm all night from the fire from the single chair. The Russian's gang can't locate them, even though the smoke from the chimney had to be visible for miles in the desolate Yukon. Flanery tells Karven about his father's death. Seems daddy was a train driver, and had a heart attack. The train derailed, and he was killed. Nice thought, but trains have a dead man switch, and will stop if the engineer collapses. The marines guarding barrels of deadly nerve gas on the train are wearing HAZMAT suits, but begin to remove them when the train comes under attack, placing the barrels in jeopardy. I suppose HAZMAT masks are the last thing an expert would want around deadly gas. Later, someone throws tear gas into the car with the barrels. The guards are back in their HAZMAT gear, but the tear gas incapacitates them. Maybe removing the masks wasn't so stupid after all, if they can't even filter out tear gas.

Flanery and Karven jump from a snowbank, and land on the snow-covered top of a fast moving train. Evidently rules of inertia and momentum don't count in this tall tale either. The train controllers decide to send fighters to take out the train. Excuse me, but didn't they consider that blowing the train off the tracks might rupture the barrels, killing most of Alaska and Canada with this airborne nerve gas? Further, the fighters are told to look just east of "Twin Hammers," as we are looking at a situation map with a moving target indicator showing the train southwest of Twin Hammers. At one point, for no apparent reason, one fighter rolls out toward his wing man.  The fighters are ordered to start an avalanche to stop the train, so they fire heat-seeking missiles at snow caps. Flanery then goes into detail about what happened between Karven and the general after he was pushed off the speeding train, even though he wasn't there, and nobody survived the avalanche. Then, he drives the cab of an 18 wheeler to where his boss is selling the barrels to the Koreans, and they don't notice him sitting there watching them. Now, how do you suppose you stop a plane taking off with deadly nerve gas containers? By outrunning it in your 18 wheeler and crashing into one of the props, of course.

I have never seen a film with as many obvious plot problems, and certainly not one where the director asked me to listen to the story critically.

As a techno-thriller addict, and ex electronic warfare systems engineer, this is my kind of film, and I found it appalling. Given a choice between scrubbing the mildew from the bathroom tile grout and watching this film, reach for the Lysol and a toothbrush.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. I like this kind of movie, but this one just fails. The action isn't very active, the characterizations aren't interesting. The humor is minimal. There is nothing original enough to hold one's attention. (Tuna: D)

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