“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.
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.