Picks and Pans Review: Face/off
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)