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Festivale Spring 1997 Face/Off

Face/Off Festivale movie review

It's the basic rule of science fiction (maybe any type of fiction), put one twist on reality-as-we-know-it and then stay true to it. In the case of Face/Off, you need to suspend your disbelief for one thing only, you need to believe that one man (Travolta) can be made to look and sound like another (Cage) and vice versa.

It is contemporary America, Travolta is a law-man driven by the 'accidental' murder of his son. Accidental because the criminal was trying to kill him not his son. He hunts, and kills the bad guy only to discover that a time bomb has been set and only the conspirator -- now in jail -- can reveal the target. So he goes undercover into a futuristic big-brother jail as his arch-enemy to discover.

Ick. The good guy has his face cut off and the bad guy's face is literally sewn on.

But, as chance would have it, nothing brings you out of a coma like having your face cut off, so there we have it guys, your classic trading places scenario.

Is it done well? Or is it just an expensive martial arts film with a science fiction theme pasted over the top?

Well, kind of. There are big explosions, loud fights, a couple of dance steps by Travolta, and Cage looking moody. In an 'action' film, there isn't a lot of time for soul searching, and if you don't make your points quickly and deeply, they get lost in the next shoot-em-up.

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This film has some very good photography / insight at the beginning. There is a definite style, especially Cage in slow motion making an entrance at the airport. But the film loses because Travolta, and to a lesser extent Cage, play their own roles, not their roles and the other would play it.

Some years ago there was a television series Switch with Sharon Gless and John Shuck. She was a cosmetics company executive, he was a sport writer, each was dissatisfied with life and they swapped. So we have on tape memorable moments of acting, like Sharon Gless tottering on high heels as she imagined John Shuck (a huge teddy bear of a man) would if he found himself built like Sharon Gless. Even more amusing was Shuck in a bubble bath painting his nails with clear polish because "I'm a woman underneath".

Between the writing and the acting, we believed that John Shuck was playing the female role and Gless was playing the male. OK? They impersonated another actor, they wore their own bodies as if they were costumes. It was FANTASTIC.

But Cage played Cage's interpretation of the two characters and Travolta played Travolta's interpretation of the two characters and it didn't really work. It lacked the special frisson we got from Switch. Cage didn't enjoy losing his love handles overnight, although Travolta did admit to not being good looking anymore.

The most interesting thing in this film is the opening minutes. Once the two men exchange places, its pretty ordinary.

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Just the facts:

Title: Face/Off

The Players: Nicholas Cage, John Travolta, Joan Allen
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