Face/Off (1997, John Woo)

A lot of Face/Off is okay. Nicolas Cage does a great job as the hero stuck with the villain’s face and makes it worth watching. The same can’t be said for John Travolta, who’s only a little better as the villain with the hero’s face than he was as the hero (the movie’s got a half hour plus opening act), and he’s terrible as the hero.

I haven’t seen Face/Off in many years, though I’d probably still assume it’s Woo’s best American film. It’s amazing what stylization does to a picture–the story’s so stupid it could have been Tango & Cash 2 (well, okay, maybe not Tango & Cash 2, as some of the scenes are really effectively written), but people loved it.

Woo didn’t make those scenes good, it’s pretty clear; he’s totally disinterested with anything nuanced. He’s also disinterested with getting good performances. Besides Joan Allen, Robert Wisdom and CCH Pounder, practically every performance is cartoonish and awful. Alessandro Nivolo, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes… their performances make one wonder if the casting director was just playing a joke on the audience. Gina Gershon’s weak too, but more miscast than bad. Margaret Cho, however, gives one of the worst performances I can think of right now.

There’s a lot of good stunt work, a lot of gunfights–it’s hard to call them good, since everyone has bad aim except when shooting at unnamed very supporting cast members and it gets annoying, and it’s never boring until the finale.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christian Wagner and Steven Kemper; music by John Powell; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Permut, Barrie M. Osborne, Terence Chang and Christopher Godsick; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Sean Archer), Nicolas Cage (Castor Troy), Joan Allen (Eve Archer), Alessandro Nivola (Pollux Troy), Gina Gershon (Sasha Hassler), Dominique Swain (Jamie Archer), Nick Cassavetes (Dietrich Hassler) and Colm Feore (Dr. Malcolm Walsh).

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