Face/Off (1997)

Dis/appointing.  The talkiest thrill-ride of the summer stars John 
Travolta and Nicholas Cage, as two guys who swap faces.  Literally.  
Cage plays a terrorist and Travolta plays a terrorist tracker and 
each ends up with the other's face, and identity, through a series 
of events that writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, along with 
director John Woo (BROKEN ARROW, HARD TARGET), take great pains to 
make believable.  They explain the entire medical process and how 
the facial skin is removed and what's done about scars, hair lines, 
and body fat.  Surprisingly, this premise-- set in the near-future, 
if that helps-- is one of the more *plausible* components of the 
movie.  It's so utterly over-the-top that it blends perfectly with 
the accompanying action, Action a la Woo, a gracefully choreograph-
ed carnival of all things flinging, flying, shooting, and explod-
ing.  What's much more *difficult* to believe are the smaller, sub-
sequent story details, ranging from the circumstances surrounding a 
character's heart attack to a wife who fails to notice a scar that 
her husband no longer has.  (Not to mention other physical differ-
ences that are never, ah, expanded upon!)

Those only familiar with the John Woo of BROKEN ARROW are in for a 
treat, as the world-renowned director is almost back to his old 
self.  I say, I say, *almost*.  He's returned to the world of Grand 
Guignol, but without enough lighting!  Three, maybe, four sequences 
are damn difficult to follow, shot for shot.  (From what I recall 
of his more-recent HARD TARGET and HARD BOILED, the photography was 
much... cleaner.)  Worse, there isn't *enough* action to keep these 
pulpy characters interesting.  (At least an hour passes without any 
gun battles, which is a l-o-n-g time to spend with Cage's good guy,
all stooped shoulders and stupored stares.)  That said, there's 
still enough here to satisfy most moviegoers.  The surgery sequence 
is an armrest gripper.  The body count is refreshingly high.  Tra-
volta is wicked fun playing Cage's character playing Travolta's. 
Olivia Newton-John sings "Over the Rainbow."  And two late 
sequences-- a Mexican standoff in a church (complete with fluttering 
white doves) and a high-speed powerboat chase (is there any other 
kind?)-- bring everything home.  For those fast, furious, fleeting 
moments, it's why we go to the movies.  (Rated "R"/140 min.)

Grade: B

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: June 30, 1997

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