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Face / off was not John Woo’s first Hollywood movie, or his second. But it was his first John Woo movie in Hollywood, if you follow. He has revolutionized the genre with his gun fu movies in Hong Kong, the action master America found a frustrating place to work. Studios continued to intervene in his projects. 1997’s Face / off was his first American movie in which he gained great creative control, and it shows.
Face / off Characteristics John Travolta plays Nicolas Cage and Nicolas Cage plays John TravoltaThere are magnet prisons, golden guns, ridiculous facial expressions, bizarre asides and the promise that almost every scene will surpass the last.
Travolta begins the movie in which he plays Sean Archer, a booklet-written FBI agent who is determined to arrest Castor Troy, a mercenary who murdered his son. The plot really starts with a police chasing an airport runway while Archer and the rest of the FBI try to catch the plane from Troy before it takes off. In some movies, it would be a finale to have the characters shoot each other from moving planes and try to pin down a plane with a helicopter. Face / off has just started.
Archer captures Troy and his gang, leaving Troy in a coma. Sadly, not before Troy set up a bomb that would go off in Los Angeles. Archer has to find it.
What is the most obvious way to do this, you wonder? Just undergo an experimental operation to remove Troy’s face and place it on Archer’s body, as well as a new series of surgeries that will completely change Archer’s body to look exactly like Troy. It’s about getting somebody’s face off, you see.
We get to see some of the weakest film science in history (Deep blue sea is much more accurate) and then it’s off to the magnet prison to find the location of the bomb belonging to Troy’s brother, Pollux. Pollux is in a prison whose whole trick is that the inmates wear magnetic boots so they can be constantly locked up and tracked. As for the prison gimmicks, it’s fantastic. John Carroll Lynch, last seen as a pacifist in The Chicago Trial 7, also has a fun role as a vicious prison guard.
Archer’s absurd plan really works … until a faceless Troy wakes up from his coma. His henchmen kidnap the doctor behind the surgery to switch faces and force him to perform it on Troy with Archer’s face. This scene makes even less sense than Archer’s surgery, which is shown to the public as a complex, multi-faceted procedure that includes everything from weight loss surgery to hair cutting.
How Troy is able to make these changes is never explained, but it’s fine. Face / off isn’t difficult sci-fi, to put it lightly. Far more important than the science behind all these ridiculous operations is a faceless Caster Troy, seen in the reflection of the kidnapped doctor’s glasses. The doctor asks Troy what he wants. Troy replies, “Take a gamble!”
The movie is full of Travolta and Cage seizing the opportunity to laugh at themselves. Travolta, who plays Cage’s Troy, comes off a line and makes fun of his chin. Acting as Travolta’s character masquerading as Cage, Cage goes crazy and wild in no time.
Face / off is the Platonic ideal of a 90s action movie. Not everything makes sense, but you’re having too much fun to worry.
Face / off streams on Hulu through February 28 in the US.