Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Let's get this out of the way quickly: The entire premise of Face/Off is ridiculous. John Travolta and Nicholas Cage switching bodies? That's amazingly improbable, though it must be said not as improbable as the steps required to get to that particular ludicrous development. The script as a whole is built on concept rather than coherence, and it goes all over the place and with all sorts of wild yet ill-defined plans. On paper, this is all very stupid.

One gets a sense that director John Woo realized how insane the whole thing was. As a result, instead of trying to play things straight, we get a film that embraces it's own ridiculousness. It drenches what would otherwise be a very stupid story in waves of style and over-acting, and as a result, even with the very high body count, it turns into pure fun.

Step one in this transformation is the casting of Nicholas Cage. Nobody can do completely unhinged quite as well as Cage, and when he's playing Caster (the villain) he takes it so many notches over the top that you can't help but forget about taking anything seriously. As a result, when John Travolta becomes Caster, he's got to do his best Nicholas Cage impression, having to match him in wild-eyed madness. The performances are so over the top that there's no indication of where the top is, or if it is even possible to bring it back down. You can't take anything seriously with so much flamboyant acting on the screen. This is something you can't take seriously if you want to enjoy it.

Step two entails making the action sequences as stylish and accomplished as possible. That's John Woo, whose action sequences never fail to be engaging, stylish, exciting, and a bit too long to really take seriously. With his impeccable command of music, pacing and pyrotechnics, Woo can pull off sequences that are like a ballet with guns and explosions. The script becomes completely irrelevant, as it functions merely to set up superb imagery and impeccably done action sequences.

Between those two steps, we get an extremely bloody action film that manages to be extremely fun and engaging. According to the internet, it was once proposed to be a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. If that would have happened, it might have been truly horrible. But with a cast and crew who are clearly enjoying themselves, and look that throws caution to the wind and becomes so cool you don't think of the logic behind it. It's a symphony of violence, and one that's astonishingly watchable. It could have been terrible, one can see the potential for serial awfulness in its bones. Luckily, the right people came together, and made a film that one is almost forced to adore.

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