June 28, 1997 -- "Face/Off" is an outrageously silly action movie that exhibits many of the qualities that have made Hong Kong (Get out before it's too late!) director John Woo famous, bullets, blood and overacting.
Woo, whose career in Hong Kong has inspired such popular directors as Quentin Tarantino, got his big break in Hollywood when he directed "Broken Arrow." "Face/Off" like "Broken Arrow" stars John Travolta, who this time is teamed with Nicholas Cage.
Travolta plays FBI agent Sean Archer, who relentlessly pursues terrorist Castor Troy because Troy tried to shoot him and in the process killed Archer's son, scarring him. The emotional tie between the two enemies is similar to that in "Heat," and is vaguely reminiscent of another Woo film, ``A Better Tomorrow,'' released in 1986.
The problem with Woo films (the best one of his I've seen is "The Killer") is that Woo is in love with blood bags. The bullets and the blood seem to get in the way of plot, dialogue and character development. The shoot-outs are stylish and well-staged, but silly.
The main premise of this kind of shoot out is that you can have about 100 SWAT team marksmen firing 100,000 rounds of ammunition at the Castor Troy character without hitting him once. The main reason nobody can shoot him is that he is so cool. The lesson is, boys and girls, if you are cool and self-confident, not to mention ruthless, you are invulnerable. Kind of makes you want to get out there and rob a bank, doesn't it?
This seems to be a takeoff on the old western cliché, that is, a sort of "variable accuracy" rule, that, is the accuracy of a movie gun is inversely proportional to the importance of the target in advancing the plot at that point in the film. Thus, we can have the two main characters, bristling with weapons, standing less than six feet apart, unable to hit each other with a bullet time after time in the film. The big difference is, the rule used to apply mainly to good guys.
I have heard of such things happening in real life, but not among trained marksmen who are experienced in life-and-death situations. It was so ridiculous it was funny. There was also a high-speed boat chase in the film that was way beyond belief. At one point, a boat crashed through another boat and continued the chase, even though it was enveloped in flames.
Of course the whole premise of the film is impossible. You can't just switch people's faces as if they were rubber masks (not in 1997 at least). That, and altering their voices, is pure science fiction. There's also the little matter of Travolta being at least 20 pounds heavier than Cage. Aside from the removal of "love handles" the movie doesn't really explain away this problem.
Aside from the comic book violence and some incredible stunts, there is also a lot of overacting as Cage and
Travolta emote furiously throughout the whole film. Cage is especially fun to watch. The dialogue is also very obscene.
While most of the women in the film exist only to be exploited sexually, Joan Allen, who plays Sean Archer's wife, Eve, gives an excellent performance in a very difficult role. She is the one character asked to display intelligence. She has to figure out what's going on. All the other characters in the film don't really seem to care what is going on, but they have a great time shooting their guns.
While the plot makes no pretense at coherence, the movie is fun from a comic book action standpoint. Until I saw this film, I thought Batman was silly. By comparison, it seems to make a lot more sense now. On the basis of amusing action and stunts alone, I'll give "Face/Off" a C+. By the way, do you suppose the filmmakers put the slash in the title just to show they are not very literate? On the other hand, maybe the slash makes sense in Chinese.It took me a while, but I think I finally isolated what irritates me about this movie: It is the fact that it promotes the idea that you can indulge in hatred and vengeance with a positive result. The trouble is that if you don't let go of your hate and abandon the pursuit of vengeance your hatred will destroy you. That's just the way it is. This film pretends that vengeance is somehow therapeutic. That is a very dangerous and destructive message.
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