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Face/Off (1997)
Rated R

Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, and Gina Gershon

Rating:
***
out of
*****

A top-secret surgical procedure allows anyone to wear the face of anyone else temporarily for whatever reason. When FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) needs to interrogate Pollux Troy (Allesandro Nivola), brother of supercriminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), he realizes that the only way that he can retrieve information is to deceive him into thinking he's talking to his brother about their plot to blow up Los Angeles. To achieve this deception, Castor Troy's face is surgically removed and implanted on Archer's body while Castor lies in a coma.

But, of course, Castor Troy is a supercriminal and he somehow comes out of his coma and figures out what has happened to him. He spies Archer's face being stored in the operating room and forces the doctors to give it to him, effectively making him his own worst enemy.

While the real Archer is undercover as Castor Troy, the real Troy is eliminating the only people who know the truth about who's face belongs on what body. Archer finds himself stranded as Castor Troy and Castor Troy seems to hold all of the keys to his future. The resulting movie is a twisting, turning path of action, suspense and high-speed melodrama as this odd couple begin to unravel in their roles.

The plot allows Travolta and Cage to have a lot of fun imitating each other. Travolta acquires Cage's staccato delivery and Cage takes on Travolta's breathy voice and facial mannerisms. Each seems to be having a great deal of fun acting like the other and the script allows for some humorous situations as well as the usual identity crises clichés. Travolta seems to enjoy being a bad guy under Woo's direction, having done so before in 1996's Broken Arrow.

Chiefly, Face/Off is about action and director John Woo is responsible for some of the most amazing action sequences ever captured on film. If anyone knows how to choreograph a fight or chase scene, it is Woo. That's why I was so disappointed by Face/Off's complete lack of any such gripping scenes. It had some moments of tension and grace, but nothing truly awe-inspiring. Woo's use of mirrors to reflect the characters back at themselves and at the camera is unique, but, otherwise we've seen a lot of this stuff before.

While the film's performances and plot are unique, if not extreme, the action sequences are too over-the-top to be even slightly believable. Possibly because of the extremely outrageous plot, it's hard to ask yourself to believe the stunts and action too. I really wanted to like Face/Off, but I just can't bring myself to say that it is anything more than an average action film with unfulfilled potential.

Trivia: John Travolta can be seen in the Mike Nichols film, Primary Colors, playing a fictional role based on President Bill Clinton. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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