Movie Project #20: Face/Off [1997]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Face/Off [1997]

Face/Off [1997]
Director: John Woo
Writers: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi
Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen
Running Time: 138 minutes

Going into Face/Off, I was hoping for a ridiculous, over-the-top action flick, and that’s exactly what I got. John Woo’s third American film is genius in that it sets up two of Hollywood’s craziest actors and lets both of them go off the rails.

Nicolas Cage is at his most deliriously best right from the get-go, playing a terrorist supervillain named Castor Troy. His archenemy is John Travolta’s Sean Archer, an FBI agent who is seeking revenge for the murder of his young son (killed by Troy, of course). Their first confrontation in the film depicts the age old battle of airplane vs. helicopter. Later, they fight on top of a speeding powerboat. The action scenes are signature Woo — stylish as all hell, and full of spectacular explosions.

Face/Off [1997]

What helps set Face/Off apart from other action films of the era is its utterly absurd plot. After Archer gets the better of Troy at the beginning of the film (putting him into a coma), he thinks he has finally got his revenge and his pursuit is over. That quickly changes once it is revealed that Castor’s brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), has planted a bomb in Los Angeles, and Castor is the only other person who knows its location. In order to coax the location out of Pollux, Archer goes undercover with the help of an experimental face transplant surgery that changes his face, his voice and the rest of his body to perfectly match Castor’s.

As if that isn’t ludicrous enough, Castor wakes from his coma and adapts the face of Archer.

This transition essentially leads to Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapping roles, giving both of them a chance to one-up and out-camp each other. Both guys bring a great deal of enthusiasm to their roles, especially when delivering some genuinely terrible dialogue (see: “I want to take his face…. off.” and “Sasha, what the fuck… are you doing here?“). Both men were the perfect selections for their characters.

Face/Off [1997]

The only time Face/Off lets its foot off the gas is when it peeks into the melodrama at home with Archer and his wife, Eve (Joan Allen). She is fed up with her husband’s endless chase of Castor, and they are constantly butting heads about this. These moments stand out as the weakest, and in a film already too long at over two hours, they could have probably been trimmed a bit.

Still, Face/Off revels in its overindulgence, and the overall product makes for one of the more entertaining action films to come out of the ’90s. As a bonus, if you’ve ever seen the “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” YouTube video and were craving more of him in top lunatic form, this is the movie for you.


14 thoughts on “Movie Project #20: Face/Off [1997]

  1. Dan Heaton says:

    I love this dumb movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so it may show some cracks if I checked it out again. Either way, it’s definitely the best of Woo’s films in the U.S.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      I have a feeling this will hold up to rewatches, especially if in the mood for some ridiculous, mindless action. A friend of mine stopped in about halfway through the movie and he stuck around for the rest, even though he said he’s probably seen it a dozen times. Then again, who can resist Cage & Travolta at their craziest?

  2. Jaina says:

    Face/Off is just one of those films I can’t help but watch when it’s on TV. Like you said, totally absurd over the top action film. Nicolas Cage at his crazy, zany, OTT best.

  3. Gary Smith says:

    This movie was so stupid, but I loved it because of it and both Cage and Travolta did a great job. Been a long time since I’ve seen this though; need to pop in the DVD sometime soon.

  4. ruth says:

    Right on Eric!! It’s my all time 90s guilty pleasure and actually I’m not guilty at all that I LOVE it! 🙂 Ridiculous + over-the-top has never been so much fun!!

  5. Jules says:

    Good stuff Eric.

    Body switch movies are normally a staple of bad teenage comedies and chick flicks, but it strangely makes a very good bed partner to action movies as well, as seen here.

    I saw this one as a very young teenager right around the time it first came out, and had a chance to re-watch in the last year or so. Just a great fun campy picture that gets a lot of stuff right. Enjoyable as a fairly good straight up action thriller and then of course on a whole nother level of watching Travolta and Cage do their best manic impersonations of each other. (Always fun seeing actors having to act as other actors in the same movie) I’d love to see another movie like this with two modern day actors with very distinctive facial/vocal/body language attributes…. The matching possibilities are endless.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Yeah, body swapping stories are usually a recipe for disaster, but this movie nails it by realizing how ludicrous the concept is and then running with it. It doesn’t get much better than watching Nicolas Cage and John Travolta continually trying to one-up each other.

  6. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    This is one of those action flicks that will never ever get old to me. Definitely one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I haven’t seen it in years but I remember watching it as a teenager multiple times. A lot of over-the-top ridiculousness capped by the amazing performances of Travolta and Cage. The idea for the film simply wouldn’t work the same without those two at the helm.
    Nice review!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Yep, completely agree. I can’t imagine the film being anywhere near as fun without those two actors. I read somewhere that Arnold and Stallone were originally considered for the roles — no way they could have pulled this off.

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