Cheese-tastic Classics: “Face/Off”

“Cheese-Tastic Classics” returns with another great action flick loaded with unintentionally comical moments, adding up to that special blend of movie we know and love as “Cheese”!

This time up? The John Woo/John Travolta/Nic Cage beauty, “Face/Off”!!   It’s the story of an international terrorist, the FBI Special Agent whose son he killed, and what happens – literally – when they switch faces.

Oh yeah, baby!

Our movie opens with a flashback. Happy Daddy John Travolta is with his son on a merry-go-round… unbeknownst to him, he’s lined up in Nic Cage’s sniper scope. Travolta’s Sean Archer is in charge of the task force charged with capturing Nic Cage’s Castor Troy. Troy aims to take Archer out, and succeeds in shooting him through the back. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the bullet goes right through… killing Archer’s young son, but leaving Archer himself alive.

Thus the tale is set for a battle between two embittered foes. Archer is ready to pursue Troy with an unmatched zeal, and Castor Troy is an unmitigated psychopath. When Archer receives a tip that Troy’s brother has leased a plane at LAX, they spring into action. Arriving just in time, Archer manages to stop Troy’s plane from taking off with a high stakes game of chicken between a car and a plane, and then a helicopter that pins the plane’s flaps with its landing skids. A fierce gun battle ensues in the hangar after the plane crashes (Troy shot the pilot in frustration), and Castor Troy is left in a coma.

It’s not as easy as “Case Closed” however. Not by a long shot! Castor Troy and his brother Pollux (they’re named after the Gemini twins) have planted a bomb somewhere in LA. The FBI needs to extract the location of the bomb from the imprisoned Pollux Troy, and the only way they can think of to do it is to trick him into telling Castor. With Castor in a coma, the plan they come up with is to surgically remove Castor Troy’s face, and graft it to Sean Archer so that Archer can deceive Pollux and have him divulge the location of the bomb.

Archer undergoes the surgery.

While he’s undercover in Jail, however, the now faceless Castor Troy awakens from his coma, and forces the clinical staff to attach Archer’s face (which had to be removed for the surgery) to him.

Castor Troy is now Sean Archer and Sean Archer is Castor Troy.

Of course, this also means that John Travolta and Nic Cage have now switched roles. The stable character (Travolta’s Archer) is now secretly the lunatic, while the lunatic, although secretly the stable FBI agent, needs to act crazy in order to keep up appearances. This gives both actors free license to chew scenery. In fact, the description “Chewing Scenery” is an unfair understatement to both scenery and to the act of chewing.  The two of them alternately mug and smirk and rave for the camera. There’s twitching and spasms and all the physical reactions that great actors use to convey psychological discomfort. There is no “Top” these two performances would not go “Over”.

While Castor Troy (Now played by John Travolta) takes advantage of Sean Archer’s job, his wife, and almost his daughter, Sean Archer (now played by Nic Cage) breaks out of a futuristic maximum security prison by causing a disturbance so he would be brought to be electroshocked, then beating up some guards and taking their guns, then jumping off the offshore prison’s helicopter platform into the ocean far below. Meanwhile, Castor Troy disarms the bomb that necessitated the face transplant procedure himself, looking to gain favor now that he’s implanted in the FBI. He figures he can use his new position to wipe out his competition.

After Archer escapes, he infiltrates Castor’s gang, and Castor brings the might of the FBI to bear. The fireworks begin anew. Archer discovers Troy has a son, Pollux is killed, as are many of Troy’s cronies. Archer manages to escape again, to try to warn his wife who she’s really been living with…

The buildup to the final showdown has begun.

And what a showdown it is.

Every single that gets bullet fired in this movie sets off a cascade of sparks upon impact, no matter what it hits. Seriously, it’s like a small-scale fireworks show whenever a gun battle breaks out. These bullets could cause spark showers if they were shot into a pile of wet pillows. There are so many spark showers in this flick that the US temporarily experienced a sparkler shortage in 1997 due to a shortage of potassium nitrate caused by “Face/Off”‘s production. Several scenes actually had to be reshot when cascading sparks were set off unintentionally by: Nic Cage’s ferocious overacting, John Travolta’s cleft, and one of John Woo’s trademark doves.

The finale of this film is literally explosive. After a dove filled shootout in a church, (following the movie’s 82nd Mexican standoff) Archer/Castor chases Castor/Archer to the docks and a high-speed speedboat chase ensues. The two pilot their speedboats, bumping and jostling through the surf, and playing a high-speed game of chicken. There’s leaping from one boat to the other, a fist fight onboard as the boat races at high-speed, and a speedboat jumping through an explosion. Huge fireballs. Gotta have ‘em.

And in the end, the two stand on the shore, face to face with their own visage, now on their mortal enemy.

“Face/Off” is cheese in its purest form. You have a silly high concept, tons of pyrotechnics, an overactive director, and two stars trying to one up each other seeing who can go over the top the most. There are people firing guns with both hands while jumping sideways, more mexican standoffs than you can shake a stick at, a dystopian prison where they dispense electroshock as punishment, and a face transplant surgery that’s able to completely swap out someone’s face and voice with no scarring, pain or loss of functionality.

Behold, the power of Cheese.

Daniel Fogarty

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36 thoughts on “Cheese-tastic Classics: “Face/Off”

  1. Remember that scar… I’m not going to need it any more!

    Absolutely love this. Combination of Woo’s ridiculous over-the-top style, stupid quantum leap story and both Cage/Travolta hamming it up to the max / going mental. It really shouldn’t work but this is one of the few films I’d hapily watch until death. Plus, GINA GERSHON… Game. Set. Match.

    – Best use of impotence
    – Best use of a butterfly knife
    – Best use of Somewhere over the rainbow
    – Best use of Doves
    – Best use of cigarettes
    – Best use of priest costume
    – Best use of face touching….

    The list is endless!!!

    • I agree with much of your list. LOL MUCH. :D

      But I cant give you “Best use of Somewhere over the rainbow” or “Best use of Cigarettes”.

      I will say that “Best use of face touching” is simply an inspired choice. LOL

      May I offer as replacements? “Best Moneyclip”, “Best use of Jet Engine as a weapon” and “Most Mexican standoffs”?

      Open to other suggestions, LOL!

  2. Now that’s some hot, stinky cheddar! haha The best part is remembering that I loved Face/Off when it came out. I was a freshman in high school, so no harm no foul, but its a good laugh to watch now. You gonna do a writeup on Hard Target next? ;-)

    • No, but there MAY BE some Jean-Claude involved. Back to back John Woo is too much Woo for anyone! :D

      I love how this series really draws the requests out! LOL…

      But yeah, there’s so many movies that do that to me too. My friends and I always had a good sense for the cheese though. Growing up in the 80s does that for ya. You learn to recognize the unintentional comedy!

  3. Great example of high-octane cheese! Those two actors outdoing each other and imitating each other with gleams in their eyes is a memory that comes back instantly with your review. There is no Top that they would not go Over – so true!

    • LOL

      Aint no acting HIGH Enough! And no mugging low enough! For Travolta, Nic Cage and John Woo!

      Cause in “Face/Off” there aint no acting HIGH Enough! And no mugging low enough…

      Glad you enjoyed Jan!! :D

  4. I bloody love the cheese-fest that is Face/Off. I do remember seeing it first time round and thinking what a brilliant action film it was. Thankfully I’ve grown a braincell since then! I still love it. But for the cheese. For the scenery chewing mugs. Love it.

    • Ha! Glad you enjoy it. I love everyone confessing that the first time through they were like “That was awesome!” There’s no crime in that. :D It has fermented into the highest calibre cheese though…

  5. There’s some quality hammy/bad acting on display here, but I re-watched this just a few months ago and went from thinking it was stupid fun to being just stupid. It could have been so much better, but it’s so shoddy and the action is terrible (oy, the stuntmen on display) and all of Woo’s tics (er, trademarks) annoy the piss out of me.

    • You can see the stuntmen pretty clearly everytime there’s a stunt involved.

      In fairness, this was made a) Prior to CGI – nowadays even with the stuntman they’d probably digitally composite a face on there and b) prior to High Def. So no one was expected to see tham this clearly! LOL

      Its still stupid fun though. Cmon. You just hate on Nic Cage!

  6. Too bad the FBI couldn’t have gotten a favor from the IMF and just used some of their mask technology. Oh well they were SOL I guess. I actually love this film quite a bit despite its goofiness. I worship at the alter of Woo and this one best represents why he was so beloved in Hong Kong. Just tell me a better shootout that features Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing in the background I dare ya!

  7. I LOVE Face/Off! “Peach, I can eat a peach for hours,” come on, that’s a total cheesy line, but I loved it! Although, both actors did a great job portraying each other’s character, I’ve always thought John Travolta was the better actor.

    Who else wanted to exit a car like Castor Troy? (watch video from 6:44) Cheesy goodness! I just love it.

    • I don’t know if I can discuss either performance here with a straight face, but I WILL say I enjoyed Nic Cage as Castor Troy more because he just let’s it rip. That part with him as a priest where he’s just dancing and grabbin’ ass? And then you’re right… He gets on the plane and totally accosts that stewardess (even though she turns out to be FBI). He’s great.

      I love his “Supply Kit” he has his lackeys lug around for him! Lol

  8. [To the tune of “Food, glorious food” from the musical Oliver]

    Cheese, glorious cheese!
    Swapped faces and voices!
    While we’re in the mood —
    Cold served vengences!
    Guns, explosions and morning doves!
    What next is the question?
    Rich governments have it, boys —
    bio-medical experimentation!!

    Cheese glorious cheeeeeeeeese!!!

    • Ohhhh. Extra points for comments set to music, definitely! LOL!!

      I had to laugh the other day when you were comenting about Woo on the TPMP page, I was thinking “Oh. Just wait!” :D

      This flick is just farcical. Your tune does well to illustrate it!

  9. Really, it’s simply the best John Woo film ever done on U.S. soil. Over-the-top, scientifically implausible, and overly extravagant in its emotions, it some how works (especially for those of us with Y-chromosomes). Plus, given its excessively and literally bi-polar story, it does the seemingly impossible (with ease, I might add) in getting some of the best exaggerated performances out of John Travolta and Nic Cage, each given equal opportunity at playing the operatic hero AND the freakin’ psychotic villain, on film. LOVE THIS FILM! Great post, Fogs.

    p.s., as with most Woo films, if you’re a bullet-counter film geek, be sure to check that at the door before watching this ;-).

    • Oh, god. Totally have to check that impulse. If this was a video game, the setting would be “Unlimited Ammo”. :D

      I would add it’s implausible in more ways than just “Scientifically” LOL!

      As you mention, putting Travolta and Cage together in this flick was a stroke of genius. Watching the two of them ham it up is just priceless. Had to be an entry into this series without a doubt!!

      Thanks for the backup on this one Le0p!

  10. Great flick, one of those 90’s cheese-fest that only work because they were made back then :D I remember borrowing the VHS tape from a friend and watching it after school… AWESOME!

  11. Man, away for a few days and you go all Face Off and Robocop on me! Guess that’ll teach me!

    Face-Off to me is entertaining and very watchable. Action, stunts, two big name stars in a showdown. I never had a problem with the persona changes that each actor takes on either. Always thought they made the switch from good guy to bad guy very well.

    I can see how you can call it “cheese”, but those just plain entertaining type films I tend not to classify as good, cheese, bad, or whatever…seem to have their own category to me.

  12. i do love that movie but i hate part of their body because if they switch their face and now the body! it looook so same! that really stupid part ever.

  13. I saw this film when I was 16. I loved it! After reading your review, I don’t think I want to re-watch the movie. It’ll destroy the memory and awe I had in watching it.

    • Ha! Wellllll… I can undersatnd that. I would hate to actually turn someone off on this movie, though. Its fun! Its a lot of fun… It’s just… cheese city. :D

      Thanks for posting up Learning Dog!

  14. The comedy fest that is Face/Off was shown on BBC1 this evening and I absolutely wet myself. I love that both characters roll with the plot with unshrinking seriousness. 10/10.

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