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- July 07, 1997
- Vol. 48
- No. 1
Picks and Pans Main: Screen
Its premise is so nutso, so patently ridiculous, that this movie would seem destined to fall on its titular face. But Face/Off, in which Travolta's and Cage's characters literally trade faces (and the actors swap styles), is a complete and total blast. In addition to stunning action sequences—its climactic speedboat scene puts the lumbering Speed 2 to shame—Face/Off has what The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Con Air, Batman & Robin and the summer's other big movies are missing: characters with intellect enough to reflect on their actions.
Travolta plays an elite federal agent who tracks down terrorists. A real straight-arrow, he is obsessed with nailing Cage, a pill-popping, sex-hungry loose cannon who, at the movie's start, kills Travolta's young son. Flash forward six years: Travolta finally lands his man only to discover that the now comatose Cage (from injuries he suffered when captured) has hidden a deadly bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. Time for the movie's big trick: Travolta has Cage's face sliced off and surgically transplanted onto his own (while leaving his own mug soaking in saline and Cage temporarily faceless) and then joins Cage's younger brother (Alessandro Nivola) in prison in order to learn where the bomb is concealed. While Travolta's in the hoosegow (of course, he's actually played by Cage doing Travolta doing Cage—still with me?), Cage comes to, slaps Travolta's face on his own, and moves in with Travolta's wife (Joan Allen) and teenage daughter. Soon this neo-Travolta (played by Travolta playing Cage, etc.) is cozying up to Travolta's missus and bumming cigs from the surprised daughter. "You'll be seeing a lot of changes around here," says Cage/Travolta, inhaling enthusiastically. "Papa's got a brand-new bag."
What follows is a taut psychological thriller, during which director John Woo (Broken Arrow) proves himself as adept at delineating the emotional growth of his characters as he is at composing bravura action scenes. Face/Off, though, is also a meditation on the power of movie stars. Half the fun is seeing Cage do Travolta and Travolta do Cage. Cage is good, Travolta is better. There is a glee to his performance, a sheer joy at playing two roles in one. He's having a rip-roaringly good time, and so are we. (R)
Mercedes Ruehl, Jean Reno
The cast of For Roseanna, a pleasant comic trifle set in the Italian countryside, boasts an American (Ruehl), a Frenchman (Reno) and two Brits (Polly Walker and the late Mark Frankel), all of whom have a swell time playing Italians. Ruehl, who runs a small-town trattoria with-her husband (Reno), suffers from an unspecified fatal illness that manifests itself in a tiny cough. Hubby has promised her that when she dies, he will bury her in the town's graveyard near their deceased only child. But just three burial plots remain, so Reno must make sure that no one else in the town dies. He snatches cigarettes from smokers, pesters motorcyclists to wear helmets and urges the local doctor to keep patients on life support.
The movie's plot eventually overstrains to amuse, but Roseanna pulls off a corker of a surprise at the end, so all is forgiven. Besides, it includes lots of eating scenes, always a big plus in movies about Italy. (PG-13)
David Arquette, Brad Hunt
This is yet another of those comedy dramas, like the terrific 1986 movie Something Wild, in which a straitlaced yuppie learns to loosen up and enjoy life only after being dragged through a string of misadventures by a freewheeling kook. A suicidally lonely Arquette is about to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge when Hunt steps forth to suggest that pills would be a better way to go. This, clearly, is no Good Samaritan. In fact, he's something of a desperado (why is he packing a pistol?) who also happens to be suffering from a terminal illness. These two form an odd, desperate friendship, with Arquette riding shotgun as Hunt steals a fish, robs a bank, plays the lottery and goes bowling in the buff. Nothing here is sufficiently Wild. (R)
Before going on vacation, Clavel, a twentysomething makeup artist in Paris, deposits her velvety black cat Gris-Gris with Madame Renée (Renee Le Calm), a gruff, elderly neighborhood cat lady. When Clavel returns, Madame Renee, in a voice so worn with time it sounds rusted, informs her that Gris-Gris has escaped. Clavel organizes a search party with a gay roommate, a dim but sweet Arab errand boy and Madame Renée's network of pals—cat ladies all.
Clavel is a mournful, delicate beauty but doesn't have enough energy to carry this slight, charming film. Cat is really more an exploration of Paris's changing character than a tale of cat and owner. Funky boutiques and dance clubs are crowding out the vieilles dames Who needs a grunge Paree? (R)
BRING ON THE NOISE
SEATS SHAKING? CUPS QUAKING? Ears ringing? Moviegoers who've survived the sonic assault of this summer's action blockbusters got the message loud and clear: today's dino stampedes, cruise-ship crashes and spaceship blasts are stretching the cinematic sound barrier. In fact, the loudest movies now flirt with the eardrum-rattling volume levels of a jet plane at takeoff. Why the boom in boom? Sound "is becoming a star in its own right," says Mary Oyler, director of facilities for the AMC chain's West Division theaters. "It's driving excitement, it's driving plot." Today's audiences don't want to just hear sound effects, they want to feel them. Adds Rob Janiger, sound mixer for Speed 2: "These movies are like amusement-park rides." While technicians such as Janiger design soundtracks around the Motion Picture Association's suggested setting of 85 decibels (a unit of volume), some digital-sound theater owners goose it to 90 decibels, sending volume peaks up to 110 decibels—the level of cutting chain saws and taxiing 747s. Theater owners admit to getting complaints, especially from older moviegoers (sensitivity to sound increases with age). But movie blasts aren't sustained long enough to cause damage, says William McFarland, director of the Hearing Center audiology clinic in L.A. "In short bursts, it can be okay," he explains. "There's a threshold of pain," adds Scott Cohen, president of film for Baltimore's RC Theaters. "I like them hot, but not to the point where it's obnoxious. There's a difference between good sound and noise."
- Tom Gliatto,
- Julie Jordan.
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