REVIEW: FACE/OFF (1997)

Shooty score: 4/5 Kicky score 2.5/5
Enjoy with: a bold and spicy Zinfandel. Don’t worry about the tannins; you’ll be smacking your lips to test the elasticity of your face anyway.

Get a peach, stick it in your mouth and start sucking. I’ll tell you when to stop.

“Face/Off” is a welcome cinematic gift pitting two Hollywood heavyweights against each other in a torrent of bullets and explosions. At its heart, it’s a film about revenge. On the surface, it’s about who can play a wide-eyed, shit-losing, psychopath the best.

Based on an original screenplay by Mike Werb (The Mask, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and Michael Colleary (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), “Face/Off” is a sci-fi action thriller about a disgruntled cop and an assassin swapping faces and dick game.

The film starts with a misty flashback where Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage), attempts to kill Sean Archer (John Travolta) as he rides a unicorn – god bless the 90s- and accidentally-on-purpose murders Archer’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed son.

Fast forward six years and Archer is pacing his F.B.I office, while Troy is elsewhere impersonating a priest. Straight off the bat, the film makes a point of exaggerating the differences between these two. Archer, the family man F.B.I agent, versus Troy a bomb planting molester, with a healthy appetite for peaches.

Shouting, singing, and skipping his way through his best life, Cage’s performance as a professional murder-pervert is so corny and shallow that it’s incredible. It’s such a joy to watch him unfold as a clichéd evil archetype – who smokes, does the drugs and wears silk – that it’s a shame he’s interrupted by Archer and his F.B.I army. Mid tongue suck, Cage swaps his superficial evil ticks and enters full murder-mode.

Are you still going on that peach? Good, because this first encounter is just as delicious. Archer body slams a helicopter into Troy’s jet, forcing him and his band of evil-doers to meet the challenge and, oh boy, they deliver.

Wielding a gilded gold gun, Troy cooly pistol whips and spins his way through the crossfire. Quick, nimble and professional it’s everything you expect from a world-class assassin with eyes are wider than a spookfish. It’s disappointing then when Cage abruptly reduces his tempo and is outmanoeuvred by a slow and clunky Travolta. Much like the fuzzy skin on the peach, you’re required to accept it and watch as Troy gets an unconvincing smackdown.

Happily, it isn’t over. Archer soon discovers that a secret government agency is keeping Troy alive to ensure his flesh stays warm and pliable for an undercover mission. The film lives up to its name and lifts the face off Troy and pastes it on Archer, allowing you to witness the surgical magic that makes it possible. If you’ve ever felt disappointed that a chemical peel didn’t go deep enough, this scene will feel more than satisfying.

Archer also gets a new body to complete his Troy make-over. It’s great apart from the fact that nobody mentions what happens to the penis. Not even a slight joke to let you know who might have the bigger dick in this twisted body swapping world. It’s a plot hole I’m desperate to fill. I even googled the shoe sizes! But I digress…Unbeknown to Archer’s family, he’s shipped away to a high-security prison as Troy. Just in time for the real Troy to wake up, sans face.

To be fair to Troy, he then does what any of us would in his position. Take the only face that’s going and murder the people who’ve forced you to become John Travolta.

The ensuing cat and mouse plot is silly as fuck and oh so enjoyable. Archer breaks out of prison and scrambles through helicopter gunfire, working his way back to the city to take down Troy. All the while, John Travolta is doing his best as a creepy evil dude, with lots of added sugar. Laughing and tossing his imaginary hair, he grabs ass, equips a teenager with a switchblade and fucks the wife (Joan Allen) – she doesn’t complain, yo.

Plenty of bullets piss about as we pass through one action scene to the next. Enjoying some stylish symbolism as a close encounter finds Archer and Troy staring down the barrel at their unrecognisable reflections – brilliant work, Director John Woo.

The film also does a great job at keeping Archer two steps behind in the chase. It’s a tricky tactic to get right in a movie because the harder it is for your protagonist to survive and/or win, the more absurd their ascension to victory is. However, I can assure you “Face/Off” hits the sweet spot.

You should probably spit out the pip now and linger for a moment on the syrupy battery of heavy gunfire and the slightly acidic twists of events so far. The aftertaste isn’t going to last long because, before you know it, you’ll want to stuff a big steaming American hotdog in your face.

I won’t spoil what happens in the end, but try not to choke on the flaming speedboat.

Run Time: 138 mins
Certificate: 18 – Violence, bad-words and extreme acting
Dir: John Woo
Writers: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary