FACE/OFF (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Intense Sequences of Strong Violence, and for Strong Language

FaceOff poster

Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Mike Werb & Michael Colleary

Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain & Nick Cassavetes

If there are two actors who have really been slumming it lately, they would be John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. These two were huge at the height of their career, but have since wound up as washed-up has-beens taking any role that comes across their desks (how else would one explain Cage’s output for the last 5 years?). FACE/OFF is a ridiculous action flick with a really silly premise that allows for a maximum amount of fun, while also providing an excuse for Cage and Travolta to go as over-the-top as humanly possible in their roles…as each other.

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Sean Archer is a loose-cannon FBI agent who doesn’t play by the rules. After the death of his son, Archer has made it his personal mission to take down high-profile terrorist Castor Troy. Archer should feel accomplished once he’s caught Troy (who winds up in a coma), but there’s still a big problem. A bomb is loose in the city (of course) and there’s only one possible (and highly ludicrous) way to stop it from going off. Archer must undergo a shocking super-secret surgery to switch faces with Troy in order to get the location of the bomb out of Troy’s brother. Unfortunately for Archer, the now faceless Troy wakes up from his coma and steals Archer’s face. With their identities switched, the real Archer (wearing Troy’s face) must escape from prison and save his family from Castor Troy (who’s wearing Archer’s face)!

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At the very least, one can reasonably say that this movie’s plot is very silly. You pretty much know what you’re going in for from the get-go. The storyline doesn’t deviate from a predictable course of events with any huge twists or turns. It’s a big dumb popcorn-muncher and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Occasionally, junk food can be just as satisfying than a steak. That is exactly the case with this movie. There are occasional plot holes and silliness abounding, but it’s all in good fun without any pretensions about being taken seriously.

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The best thing about FACE/OFF’s premise is that it provides a flimsy enough excuse for Cage and Travolta to do their best impressions of each other. Kudos to both of these performers, because they do a good job of taking on two completely separate roles. John Travolta plays a pretty bland cop character to begin with, but is allows a lot of wiggle room when he’s crazy Troy. Cage actually is a bit too over-the-top and ridiculous as Troy, but gets significantly better when he transforms into the hero with a villain’s face. The supporting cast is completely forgettable. That’s not a huge problem though, because we all know that the real draw of FACE/OFF is to see Travolta and Cage…well, facing off against each other.

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As fun and hugely entertaining as the action scenes can be, there are definite moments where John Woo gets way too bombastic. There are lots of needless explosions and a cast of people who miss when shooting targets who are a mere few feet away (including both Cage and Travolta). Lots of silly screaming, firework sound effects, and overused slow motion are frequently used. There’s also a hilarious amount of doves packed into five minutes of screen time as well as a Mexican stand-off with more guns than the finale of RESERVOIR DOGS. With all this complaining, there’s far more good to be seen (including an awesome boat chase) than bad. The running time might seem bloated upon the start of the movie, but I can safely say that things never got dull at any point.

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FACE/OFF is exactly what it set out to be. It’s a big, dumb action movie loaded with explosions, over-the-top acting, and a ridiculous story that’s a whole lot of silly fun. Sure, it gets mighty stupid throughout and packs in action movie clichés over and over again, but it’s also a total blast from beginning to end!

Grade: B

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