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IN SHORT: This sucker is a blast.
The entire idea is so ludicrous, Cranky didn't even want to contemplate it. Take a standard story (one good cop; one really bad terrorist; one disaster looming) and then let them switch faces by adding to the mix extraordinary medical technology that allows major surgery without side effects or scars. That's the one thing that almost always shuts Cranky down -- medical stuff. I don't care how advanced a screen writer writes it down, anti-inflammatory medications have not advanced to the point where post surgical scarring vanishes in a couple of days. Nor does laser reduction of scar tissue leave no trace (usually the skin is red and inflamed, darn it there's that "inflame" word again, for weeks afterwards).
Four major surgeries and scars all over his body are what makes Cranky cranky <g>. That doesn't mean that I let reality get in the way of a good time.
Cranky will now write about the power of Woo. Not the kind that you pitch (ask your grandparents...), but the power of Broken Arrow director John Woo to get such incredible performances out of two fine actors that you will actually be suckered in and believe the totally impossible and ludicrous is totally possible and realistic. 'Cuz if you thought I was gonna slam Face/Off, you've been suckered too. Face/Off makes no logical sense, medically, but once you get over that you'll find yourself on such a wild ride you'll be giggling in your seat.
The names above the title are John Travolta, in his seocnd outing with Woo, and Nicolas Cage (who is hereby forgiven for the ludicrous and unwatchable Con Air), and it goes like this...
FBI Agent Sean Archer (Travolta) leads a super secret covert anti-terrorist squad. It's main target is Castor Troy (Cage) with whom Archer is linked by the blood of a murdered child. As with any John Woo flick, when Travolta takes Cage down, the first time, it comes down hard. Bullets fly; so does blood and, in this case, so does a plane, a helicopter and a couple of dozen police vehicles. The catch is this: Cage tells Travolta that he's planted a super-weapon somewhere in Los Angeles, and then a stunningly choreographed effect takes him out of the story. Almost.
To find the location of the weapon, Travolta must undergo a radical surgery, which redefines the old term "to suck face." This new op is so covert that not even his own crew, or his own family, know what is going down. Neither does the medical community, so we are told, which really gets in the way if you care about continuity. But as with any John Woo flick, you won't have time to care about continuity.
Travolta is then dropped into a super-secret prison to worm the info out of Castor's brother Pollux (Allesandro Nivolo). The joke's on John when Nic comes to, gets Travolta's face plastered on his own mug, kills everyone who knew about the face transplant and then takes away Archer's life and wife (Joan Allen). Literally, in the latter. Poor prisoner John. All dressed up and no place to go.
This takes fifty minutes. What's left is another ninety of spectacular stunts in a story that moves so quickly that your eyes will stick in the wide open position. Woo packs the screen full of more stuff than any other action flick has this year, and caps it all off by out speeding Speed 2.
And once you get past the medical nonsense, the rest of the story -- from jail break to winning his family back -- makes perfect sense. For my taste, it's action layered over fantasy (and what else is a good action flick but an incredibly fantasy of what the human body can withstand?)
This is the second time Travolta has played a bad guy in a John Woo film. He has so much fun doing it you can palpably feel the pleasure emanating from the screen. It is more his flick than Cage's -- Cage having to play the uptight copy of a cop while drugs and sex are being thrown at him. The confrontations between the two, regardless of whose face they wear, get better and more entrancingly violent as the movie progresses.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Face/Off, he would have paid...
Face/Off is a long movie, but you won't feel the minutes creep past the two hour mark. That's the definition of a great action flick -- you don't feel the time pass. Add to the mentioned cast, Gina Gershon in leather as Castor's ex, who adds to the story all the sentimental nonsense you could wish for. Have a good time.
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