America never did John Woo any favors, did it? The man who gave us “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled” now offers us a movie where American stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage seem to be competing to see who is a worse actor. I guess when you’re working alongside Cage, though, you either have to be as awful as he is, or else risk causing some kind of black hole. Either way, for a man who has such a skill for delivering breakneck action films, “Face/Off” is that movie so moronic, you can’t even excuse it as science fiction. It’s kind of that movie you just accepted in 1997 mainly because Cage and Travolta joining forces was a little better than when Travolta met Christian Slater in “Broken Arrow.”
Travolta plays Sean Archer, an FBI Agent who is consumed with bringing down terrorists Castor Troy after Troy’s botched assassination attempt ends in the murder of Sean’s only son. Troy is a psychopath with a habit for charismatic murders, and molesting underage girls. After finally chasing him down and subduing him, Sean is approached by doctors to consider a new radical means of going undercover. It seems Troy’s brother has planted a bomb in Los Angeles, and the only way Archer can learn about its location is by taking off the face of Troy and switching identities. Because, of course! Going so deep undercover that only a select few people know he’s switched identities, Archer has to prove he is Castor Troy to his fellow criminals.
But things don’t go as planned since the real Troy awakens, and goes all Joker, murdering people left and right and taking Archer’s face. He then intends on destroying his home life, which is already rocky, thanks to Archer’s obsession to end Troy’s reign of terror. A premise such as this requires a ton of absurdity and it’s not even tongue in cheek absurdity. Woo emphasizes a ton of lunacy behind this concept and Travolta and Cage follow suit with Cage hitting his all time high of awfulness, while Travolta manages to give a pretty good impression of Cage’s speech. The premise is very on the nose to the point where “Face/Off” sinks in to schlock territory. Archer and his family have a ritual where they caress each other’s faces, and there’s even a moment where both characters face each other representing their mirror images.
“Face/Off” can never really convince audiences that it’s anything but a silly bit of action fantasy, especially when it attempts to inject some heart, with undercover Archer learning about Troy’s long suffering wife and illegitimate son. Troy as Archer also manages to take advantage of his long suffering wife, and daughter. “Face/Off” has all the touchstones of the John Woo movie but none of the flair or excitement. It’s genuine schlock. And not the fun schlock with gratuitous nudity, either.