Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen
Director: John Woo
Running Time: 138 mins
Face/Off is an American film about an FBI agent and a terrorist with a deep-seated personal feud who exchange physical appearances, which leads to chaos erupting across Los Angeles.
They don’t make films like this anymore. In fact, I would be amazed if any movies with a screenplay as insane as this were making it through Hollywood today. However, while it wins no prizes for keeping its feet on the ground, Face/Off earns top marks for delivering high-octane popcorn entertainment to the max.
Featuring two enormously entertaining performances from John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, slick, exhilarating action sequences from director John Woo, and a light-hearted, imaginative story, there’s a lot to enjoy about Face/Off, particularly if you sit back and turn your brain right off.
Face/Off isn’t a totally braindead affair, but it’s a film that grows on you as it unfolds, particularly after a bemusing opening act that starts so strongly, but seems to lose all grasp on reality within minutes.
The movie gets off to a brilliant start, with a rapid-fire action sequence setting the tone nicely, and showcasing all of the flamboyant, high-octane stunts that director John Woo loves to exhibit on screen. But it’s the next twenty or so minutes that left me totally dumbfounded.
After catching one of the terrorists, the FBI’s jump from ‘we can’t get any information from this guy’ to ‘let’s subject our top agent to an experimental medical procedure and replace his face with our main terrorist target’ is so sudden and so insane that I had to do a double-take.
Why exactly everyone in the FBI seems to go along with this mad plan for what is such a seemingly run-of-the-mill obstacle still makes no sense, because the screenplay glosses over it entirely, and moves on as if nothing has exactly happened.
It takes a while for Face/Off to get your confidence back after that total departure from reality, but once you get used to the fact that Nicolas Cage is actually John Travolta and John Travolta is actually Nicolas Cage, it starts to get interesting again.
Ignoring the fact that this screenplay isn’t exactly a work of art, it certainly has a lot of fun with its insane premise, and although things do run a little long in the middle portion, it all builds towards a thoroughly entertaining action crescendo that runs for an exhilarating half hour right to the finish.
Neither Travolta nor Cage (Cage especially) really bothers to imitate the behaviour of the original character they’re playing, but that doesn’t matter when you’ve got massive shootouts, daring escapes and epic speedboat chases to sit back and enjoy.
And that’s the real charm of Face/Off. While the story does come good with some engaging character depth towards the end, this is a pure popcorn blockbuster, which prioritises action, stunts and explosions above all else.
That certainly won’t win it any Oscars, but once you get used to just how crazy Face/Off is, it’s an enormously enjoyable watch with an innocent disregard for the laws of reality that will put a massive smile on your face.
Overall, I had a heap of fun with Face/Off. Though it’s perhaps a little long, and is extremely jarring when first introducing its main premise to you, the film counts on great performances, brilliant action, slick direction and light-hearted blockbuster fare to deliver popcorn entertainment of the highest order. And so, that’s why I’m giving Face/Off a 7.5.