johnlink ranks FACE/OFF (1997)

Some movies you see far too many times as a teenager and just know it probably isn’t good to go back and revisit. But FACE/OFF, despite a top 5 all time absurd premise, is a movie begging to be seen again. Cage. Travolta. Woo. All three of those guys were at the height of their powers, and all three have come down in regard (Woo less than the others) in the 17 years since this movie came out.


I watched FACE/OFF (1997) on 7.29.14. It was, God, probably the twenty-fifth time I’ve seen this movie. But I think it is the first time I’ve watched it in the 21st century.

The premise, in case you’ve been living under a rock, or are a 17 year old who was born when this came out, is that John Travolta is a good guy FBI agent and Nic Cage is a bad guy uber-criminal. Stuff happens, and they trade faces. Ignoring the science altogether, most of this movie (after a surgery) has Cage as the agent in wolf’s clothing and Travolta as the baddie in sheep’s clothing. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

It shouldn’t work.

It sort of does.

That isn’t to say that FACE/OFF is going to be lighting up best-all-time action movie lists. It certainly won’t be appearing in any film class curriculum. But as far as these sci-fi/action films go (and this is more sci/fi than it lets on), this isn’t terrible.

John Woo directs this. That means we have a ton of great action, a bunch of clever standoffs, some smart visuals, and a ridiculous number of white birds flying around during the climax for no reason whatsoever. It means we have a certain musicality that sometimes works, sometimes is dissonant, and sometimes works due to how dissonant it is, most notably during the “As You Wish Upon A Star” sequence.

This also boasts a large number of names you probably don’t remember were in this. CCH Pounder, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Harve Presnell, Colm Feore, Alessandro Nivola, Margaret Cho, Chris Bauer, and Thomas Jane all show up at some point. None of them are particularly memorable (I always think of this movie as having Giovanni Ribisi in the role of Cage’s brother, when it is actually Nivola), save for Gina Gershon’s surprisingly usable performance. When it comes to our two leads, it is interesting to watch the film’s opening half-hour. Because Cage plays the good guy for most of the movie while Travolta plays the bad guy, the first half hour has each of them trying to mimic the mannerisms of the other. Travolta actually does this better than Cage does. Cage never really seems to be anything but Cage, only meaner. Travolta shortens his speech patterns, emphasizes the wrong words, and basically gives a whole bunch of odd line deliveries which make more sense when you realize he is trying to sound like Cage.

There are some nice themes, surprisingly, to be found as well.  It is interesting to note how much better the family unit is when the villain Travolta is playing Daddy. Even if it could never last, the family functions more as it ‘should’. An attempt to bring in a new son to replace a lost son by good Travolta at the film’s end comes across, in today’s climate, as alarmingly unhealthy. Another theme which permeates the film is the duality of good and evil. Cage is at his best, in FACE/OFF, when he is barely maintaining his sanity as he plays a good guy in the skin of a bad guy. It is also interesting to watch how the villains of the film’s opening act come across as more sympathetic as the film goes on. A large battle in this movie has you rooting for the bad guys against good FBI agents, a bit that plays out with the sympathetic and nearly heroic death of a terrible person (Cassavetes).

But to attempt to read to much into FACE/OFF is probably not smart. The science is silly and the premise even sillier. That it entertains as much as it does is thanks to Woo’s driving Direction, and the charismatic persistence of Travolta and Cage. This is an entertaining movie, no doubt, one which transcends its sometimes dated bits. If the drama weren’t so forced and the last boat chase battle sadly generic, this might be a perfect score in terms of entertainment. As it is, this is a movie which isn’t as bad to go back and visit as you might think it would be.




FINAL SCORE: 5.75 out of 10



~ by johnlink00 on July 30, 2014.

10 Responses to “johnlink ranks FACE/OFF (1997)”

  1. I love this movie! I probably watch it once a year. Poppa’s got a brand new bag.

    Great work!!

  2. On the list of things I would rather be doing, watching this movie again ranks somewhere between “Have a root canal” and “Bait an alligator with my manhood.”

    • Haha. But you only get so many Nicholas Cage crazy movies where you can tell he is acting and not ACTUALLY crazy.

      • I dare say Leaving Las Vegas, Lord of War, 8MM, and Matchstick Men are really good movies. Then again he very accurately portrays mental illness (OCD) in Matchstick Men.

      • I was being slightly facetious, but yeah I agree. Matchstick Men, especially, is very good. Leaving Las Vegas is very good, but also is when he won the Oscar and then decided to become and action star. Even though he made some good stuff in the 90s, that was the start of his career decline.

      • I figured as much. I just wanted to defend a few favorite movies of mine since I know how you feel (quite justifiably) about Nicholas Cage. Despite the awful filmography, he has been in some really good movies and done well in my view.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: