'Face/Off': The Most Ridiculous '90s Blockbuster of All Turns 25 | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

‘Face/Off’: The Most Ridiculous ’90s Blockbuster of All Turns 25 

There is so much about Face/Off, the 1997 blockbuster from director John Woo, that’s absolutely laughable on, pardon the pun, its face. 

'Face/Off': The Most Ridiculous '90s Blockbuster of All Turns 25 | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

The sci-fi premise, which has the hero and villain using cutting-edge technology to adopt each other’s faces and bodies, is absolutely ridiculous. Most of the action-adventure sequences, while very exciting, fail to conform to the laws of physics. And both lead actors, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage do some of the most luxurious over-acting of their careers, which in both cases is saying quite a lot. At least a couple of “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” moments come from Face/Off.

It’s also a ludicrously entertaining picture, and by far the most successful movie Woo made during his late-1990s Hollywood sojourn. 

The Plot

Travolta plays FBI agent Sean Archer, while Cage is Castor Troy, a terrorist/criminal/pervert. The plot begins with Cage’s character murdering Travolta’s young son in cold blood and in broad daylight, which for some reason doesn’t lead to his arrest for murder. 

After a couple of confrontations in which things get blown up in Woo-like fashion, Troy is left in a coma, but — in ’90s action movie plot fashion — there’s a ticking time bomb, complete with a digital countdown clock, that needs to be disarmed at the last possible second. So Travolta’s Archer agrees to undergo a “cutting edge” procedure to imitate his greatest enemy and get to the bottom of the plot. 

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage do some of the most luxurious over-acting of their careers

Of course, Troy gets the doctor to do the same procedure on him, and soon it’s cat-and-mouse, with bizarre psychological touches. Like Cage-as-Travolta having sex with his wife (Joan Allen) and implicitly threatening to molest his teenage daughter (Dominique Swain). Meanwhile, in the film’s most intriguing subplot, the villain suddenly has government power, which he can now use for his own nefarious ends. 

Sure, we get all of those perennials of mid-’90s action, from that digital ticking bomb to the female relative of the hero being briefly held hostage by the villain, to ostentatious use of Catholic iconography in a film that otherwise has little to do with Catholicism to the four-way Mexican standoff. 

I will grant, though, that the climactic speed boat brawl has nothing in common with the finale of any other action movie, in the ’90s or any other decade:

It’s Legacy

Meanwhile, the supporting cast is full of perennials from early-2000s cop shows, like The Shield‘s CCH Pounder and The Wire‘s Robert Wisdom and Chris Bauer. Margaret Cho is in it, too, as are Gina Gershon and the Fargo duo of Harve Presnell and John Carroll Lynch

Face/Off arrived in theaters just a few weeks after Con Air, as part of the brief blockbuster action hero period of Nicolas Cage. It was also part of Travolta’s post-Pulp Fiction run of renewed movie stardom. The film was a pretty sizable hit, earning $112 million at the domestic box office and $245 million worldwide. 

As for Woo, his next film was the second Mission: Impossible, from 2000, which was actually an even bigger hit than Face/Off, even if it’s no one’s favorite film in the series. But after a pair of flops, Windtalkers and Paycheck, Woo was done in Hollywood and returned to China, for a series of films that have mostly not been released in the United States. It was reported last year that Woo would return to the U.S. for an action film called Silent Night. 

In the years since, appreciation for the film has grown, along with the late-career cult that has emerged around Nicolas Cage. Yes, everybody knows just how insane and implausible the movie was, but that was part of the fun. 

Face/Off is streaming now on Pluto TV. 

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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