Face/Off (1997), or “You Got Nicolas Cage In My John Travolta!” “You Got John Travolta In My Nicolas Cage!”

21 03 2009
Im glad John Woo isnt a farmer, because no matter what he was doing he would find a way to blow up the barn!

That's right! Vinnie Barbarino and Randy from Valley Girl fight to the death! America has been waiting for this moment!!!

Damn it, damn it, damn it! Nicolas Cage strikes on this site again! This time he even has help from fellow Hollywood titan John Travolta. Just when I thought I was ready to love again, just when I thought that happiness was a possibility, just when I thought things were going my way, I pop in this piece of garbage into my DVD player. Sometimes I wonder if my DVD player hates me for some of the things I place in its innocent, trusting little tray. I know I would if I were hoping for The Bicycle Thief or Ali: Fear Eats The Soul and I got this instead. Now, here is a good gauge of worldwide insanity. Read the synopsis I am about to give of Face/Off, then check out the rating of this film on Rotten Tomatoes. Don’t look at it just yet. Leave it for a surprise…

Okay, deep breaths, Eric. You can do this. In…and out… Okay, okay, I think I’m ready.

So, Castor Troy is an international terrorist with a ridiculous name that doubles as a useless reference to Greek mythology. He is responsible for the deaths of countless hundreds, including the son of the FBI agent who is relentlessly chasing him, Sean Archer, whose name does not reference Greek mythology at all. Sean Archer has been tracking Castor Troy for years, and thinks he finally has him. You see, Castor’s brother Pollux (I can’t believe that is what their names are) charters a flight at LAX, and the two always fly together. So the FBI surrounds the plane, and after killing a couple agents and the pilot, Pollux is captured and Castor falls into a coma. Before he goes catatonic, however, he informs Archer that there is some sort of biological bomb that will kill everyone in LA. The only person who knows where the bomb is now is Pollux, and he isn’t talking to anyone. So, the Archer takes the obvious route here and uses some rough interrogation techniques to get the info out of him. Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s what anyone else would have done. Sean Archer, always wanting to do things the hard way, instead undergoes an experimental surgery to take Castor Troy’s face and grafting it onto his body (!!!!), hoping to trick Pollux into giving him the bomb location. I guess he also gets a body transformation and a voice modulator or something, because he literally turns into the same guy as Castor Troy. He then gets into the same jail as Pollux and, using the whole face/body/voice makeover, he scores the location of the bomb. There’s just one problem. The real Castor Troy wakes up from his coma (GASP!). Forcing the doctor to give him Archer’s face/body/voice, he becomes Sean Archer. Using this new-found identity to his advantage, he destroys all evidence of the surgery, including all of the people who knew about it, and turns the tide to his favor. Castor Troy comes to visit him in jail and tells him as much, letting him know that, as far as everyone is concerned, he IS Sean Archer now, much to the real Sean Archer’s chagrin. Can Sean Archer escape jail while wearing the infamous face of a terrorist? Can he save LA from the bomb? Can Castor Troy give Sean Archer’s wife better loving than Sean Archer ever could?

Okay, now look at the Rotten Tomatoes score. I’ll give you a second to process that information….

Ridiculously high, right? I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. A lot of people loved this movie. I did not. I might have even hated it. I don’t think I have ever sighed so many times in a two hour span. I don’t think I’m being picky here, either. It is a stupid idea, it is horrendously attempted, and it is not even any fun. Let me elucidate.

First of all, I think director John Woo might be clinically addicted to unnecessary filler for all of his American releases. This movie is 140 minutes! I can’t believe how much of this could have been cut. This could have been a 90 minute shoot-em-up that wouldn’t have scarred me so much, but they dragged this one out to the living ends, and I cannot abide by that. How can one justify such a length with a premise this flaccid, which is obviously just a thin excuse to get two big stars together in one big movie? If you’re not asking the audience to think, then you’re asking them to sit there and take your barrage of images and enjoy themselves, and if that barrage isn’t even entertaining then what’s the point? It was not just tedious, but it was boring, the greatest sin a movie can commit.

The soundtrack is irritating and assaulting. I don’t enjoy John Powell’s style, and perhaps I never will, but this one really just depresses me. It never relents, it never gives up, it never stops reminding me of the fact there is music. I don’t think a score should be so insistent, and I hope that one day John Powell will know when to swell the music and when not to, instead of just beating us over the head with it and hoping that it was always the right time to have music.

I won’t even go into the plot, but let me just say that there were much easier ways to get Nicolas Cage and John Travolta on the screen together without resorting to something as completely out of left field as a face/body/voice transplant (!!!). John Woo could have cut the tops of their heads off with a pizza wheel and transplanted their brains with an ice cream scoop and I would have suspended the same amount of belief.

Now, I’m sure that I will be accused of picking on this film because of its co-star, Nicolas Cage, whom I detest as an actor. And while nothing has changed and I do not appreciate his performance here one iota, I think that it is unfair to say that he is the only problem with this movie. He displays his usual aura of bipolar idiosyncrasies, barely acting one minute then turning into the Tazmanian Devil the next, but in this one he shares the screen with the equally quirky John Travolta. Travolta is an odd one because his emotions are similar throughout his entire career. He has never been angry any other way than the one way he gets angry (you know, the kind of angry where he em-pha-sizes and o-ver pro-noun-ces e-ver-y sin-gle word). And that is fine, but he gets angry a lot in this film, and so I had to watch him go through his stock emotions quite a lot here, which wore me out considerably. And when these two inhabit the screen together, it obviously turns into a contest of who can spout groan-inducing one liners with more verve (“Well if you’re Sean Archer, then I must be Castor Troy!” and “I’m about to unleash the biblical plague ‘Hell-A’ deserves”), which also grows tiresome after the first hour or so.

So I did not enjoy this experience. Maybe 93% of America did, but I didn’t. It’s nothing but sound and fury, with nothing but explosions and one-liners to back itself up. I’m not against action movies as long as they can be fun. If they stop being fun then I might as well be watching 140 minutes of static at home for free. This movie should have been more concerned with making a cohesive plot and a building a leaner vision than giving two-dimensional characters a chance to breathe and allowing them to spout out whatever sycophantic dialog the screenwriter thought appropriate for an action movie. Bottom line; entertain or go home. These people knew how to, especially John Woo, but they didn’t, and for that I give Face/Off 1 1/2 face/body/voice transplants out of 10. STAY AWAY!

Tomorrow is a surprise movie! Look for a new review tomorrow!