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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Face/Off

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Travolta
Director: John Woo
Rated: R
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: June 1997
Genres: Action, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Gina Gershon, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Nick Cassavetes, Harve Presnell, Colm Feore, John Carroll Lynch, Robert Wisdom, Margaret Cho

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

In a summer populated with stinker action flicks like SPEED 2 and THE LOST WORLD, John Woo's FACE/OFF is a breath of Fresh/Air. This is just what I want from an action movie -- something that gives us artistic, well-choreographed scenes of violence and explosions contained in an intelligent plot about interesting characters we care about. That's the recipe right there, and the auto-pilot writing of those two sequel action flicks shortchanged us in at least half of those departments.

FACE/OFF takes the time-worn body-switching premise and makes it fascinating again. John Travolta plays a cop who's spent most of his adult life tracking down psycho criminal Nicolas Cage, to the chagrin of his sick-and-tired-of-it-but-still-standing-by- her-man wife Joan Allen. When Travolta finally captures Cage after an airplane hangar, he can't let it go at that. He lets himself get sucked back into the case when he finds out Cage planted a bomb somewhere in the city.

If a doctor came to you with the idea of cutting your face off and putting it on the head of your mortal enemy and doing the same to your enemy, you'd give the doctor a swift kick to the groin followed by the meanest rectal exam ever, right? Not Travolta. He sits right down in the chair and lets them cut his distinguished features right off his head. A few laser-induced hairline changes and one microchip voice implant later, Travolta is Cage and a comatose Cage is left faceless in an abandoned hospital.

The plan is to send Travolta/Cage into prison so he can pump Cage's accomplice brother for information about the bomb. It doesn't work too well -- oh, he gets the information within a few scenes, but prison life is hell for poor John/Nick. He has to wear these heavy metallic boots that track his whereabouts at all times, take abuse from the Commie guards and get his ass whooped by fellow inmates. And, to top it all off, his damn face itches!

Cue the faceless Cage, who soon wakes up from his coma. There's no one guarding him, no one in the entire building in fact, and before long, his henchmen have the doctor at gunpoint, forcing him to put Travolta's face on his head. Now Cage/Travolta has the upper hand, killing the few people who know of Cage/Travolta's mission and even showing up at prison to visit Travolta/Cage. It's delicious torture watching Travolta/Cage's world fall apart before his eyes, playing off the universal fear of being completely alone in a situation.

The movie never stops being fascinating, as T/C tries to break out of jail and stop C/T, and C/T assumes Travolta's former life as a star agent of the law and a family man. Woo keeps the pace moving and gives us plenty of action to boot, but the key to the film is in the performances of Travolta and Cage. Cage in the trapped Travolta role has to go from psycho to mellow within minutes, but it's Travolta's mellow-to-psycho transformation that is the most fun to watch. The premise is outrageous, but these actors almost make it believable.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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