Face/Off (1997) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and and strong language
Running Time: 138 min.
Cast: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon
Director: John Woo
Screenplay: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Review published June 8, 1998
When notorious master criminal Castor Troy (Cage, The Rock) attempts to assassinate his FBI agent nemesis, Sean Archer (Travolta, Phenomenon), he accidentally kills Archer's 6-year-old son in the process. Archer vows vengeance and takes down Castor and his brother, Pollux (Nivola, Best Laid Plans), but it seems that Castor has planted biological weapons somewhere in LA that threatens to wipe out the city. With no other way to find out where these weapons are, Archer agrees to a top secret procedure whereby they transplant the face and voice of Castor and place it on himself. While pretending to be Castor in the state pen and getting info from Pollux, the real Castor wakes up and forces the surgeon to give him Archer's face and voice. Now the two trade places and try to destroy each other's worlds.
Fittingly enough, Mike Werb cowrote The Mask a few years earlier, with he and co-writer Michael Colleary just coming off Darkman III, also a masked character.
The real star here of course is the first successful Hollywood creation by Hong Kong virtuoso director, John Woo (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow).
Face/Off starts off bad and gets worse before ultimately taking off to great heights when the two switch identities. The main plot point is extremely tough to swallow, but implausible though it is, if you can buy it you'll have a good time with this over-the-top action film, with wit and style reminiscent of The Good the Bad and the Ugly (with even a multi-party showdown done in that style thrown in).
If only the first third of the film were handled better, this would be an action masterpiece, but it's still quite impressive. Arguably, John Woo's best film since The Killer, and Travolta and Cage are a hoot.
©1998, 2013 Vince Leo