When Face/Off came out in 1997, I was in my senior year of college, and I vaguely remember finding it to be a pretty terrific action movie. Directed by John Woo, who had garnered much acclaim for his hyper-violent melodramas such as Hard Boiled and The Killer, it was a hit with both audiences and critics, making an impressive $245M worldwide. But here’s the thing — we’ve lost sight of the fact that 17 years ago, a movie was made that starred John fucking Travolta and Nicolas fucking Cage.
Did we somehow forget this? Have we collectively ignored what an absolutely bananas confluence of events this is? I myself just recently realized this and decided that on those two factors alone, it deserved a rewatch.
Holy fucking shit, you guys.
There are two things I took away from this experience.
- This movie is awful. And…
- It may well be the most bonkers big budget action movie of the last 20 years. It is insane.
Some of you may have some rose-colored memories, so I figured I’d make you a list to remind you why.
1. Cage and Travolta are basically in some sort of weird, cocaine-fueled (I’m assuming, anyway) overacting contest. Because they are both completely off the rails, regardless of who they’re, uh, supposed to be.
2. The plot revolves around an elite super secret counter terrorism unit against the world’s greatest assassin/terrorist. That terrorist doesn’t seem to actually do anything for any reason — he’s never shown taking money, and he doesn’t seem to have a cause. The covert super secret team, on the other hand, isn’t particularly covert — they shoot and blow up pretty much everything in sight, and at one point, in case you forgot, the head of that team ends up ON THE COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE. Super secret, folks.
3. Oh, right. It’s also about two men who SURGICALLY SWITCH FACES. This is a thing that someone thought of, wrote out, and was made into a film and that we, as a people, accepted. It’s explained in breathless detail in a manner that makes absolutely no sense.
Incidentally, I re-watched much of this with my wife, who is a doctor, and she almost blinded herself from rolling her eyes so much. The science is shockingly bad (it also includes a scene where blood typing is basically done with a slide and a microscope and a little computer screen that just shows a bunch of bars and blips out the result).
4. The action is similarly insane. There’s a scene with a helicopter landing on an airplane, after which someone shoots out a jet turbine with a handgun, causing the plane to crash into a hangar which resulted in an explosion that made it seem like the plane was loaded with bottle rockets. And no one died, because they had to save that up so everyone could get shot to death.
The film’s finale is a shootout in a church on the beach (?!) that turns into a speedboat chase, that ends with Travolta trying to cut his own face off (natch) while Cage shoots him with a harpoon gun while screaming “DIIIIIIIEEEEE!” It’s amazing. It features all manner of glorious action movie ridiculousness, including my favorite scene wherein Cage dove through a full-length window, showering the room with glass. A window that was, mind you, next to an open door.
5. Everyone is in this movie. You don’t remember that, do you? Everyone is in this movie. Aside from the nutbar combo of Cage and Travolta, it includes Joan Allen, CCH Pounder, Dominique Swain (remember her?), Danny Masterson (yes, of That ’70s Show fame), Alessandro Nivola, Thomas Jane, Gina Gershon, Colm Feore, Nick Cassavetes (director of The Notebook), Robert Wisdom, and Margaret Cho. Yes, I said Margaret Cho.
6. Part of Face/Off takes place in a super-duper top secret prison that no one — including the UN and the world’s governments — knows about. It’s on an oil rig, and has a bunch of psychotic guards and computers and all the prisoners wear magnetic boots. Magnetic boots. Soak that up for a bit.
7. This scene happened. Incidentally, John Travolta won MTV’s best actor award for this. This was supposed to be the “DeNiro and Pacino in the diner” moment, I guess.
The truth is that I can’t fully convey just how completely cuckoo this film is, and so I’m recommending that each and every one of you give it a fresh look. You won’t regret it.
Oh, and just a couple more things for you:
(Hat Tip to Gifolas Cage Tumblr for the gifs)
TK is the senior editor for Film School Rejects.