Plot: Sean Archer (John Travolta) is an FBI agent with a serious ax to grind, he is determined to bring down the fugitive Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), regardless of what it takes. Troy is a high level international terrorist, unafraid of taking innocent lives to further his own cause. But when one of his projects caused the death of Archer’s son, it became personal and so now, Archer is dedicated to getting retribution. He is finally able to capture Troy after a violent confrontation, but even in this situation, he retains some power over Archer. A bomb was placed somewhere in Los Angeles and the timer is in motion, but Troy is comatose and unable to reveal any information. In a desperate move, Archer agrees to an experimental procedure which would allow him to assume Troy’s identity, then track down the bomb. But even if the plan works and Archer can pose as Troy, will the plan unfold as it was laid out, or will some serious problems arise?
Entertainment Value: I would rank Face/Off as one the best American action movies ever made, as well as one of the most entertaining action movies period, as it is wall to wall fun and excitement. The narrative is of course legendary levels of ridiculous, but the movie pulls it off (no pun intended) and while it makes no sense, the story is immense fun and just simply bonkers. The face swap gimmick might just be a fun twist in some movies, but here it is dialed up even beyond the base amount of ludicrous, to sheer madness at times. John Woo throws all his tricks at the movie and goes for broke with both the action scenes and story driven moments, while most of the cast embraces the silliness with glee and enthusiasm. This is pure, over the top cinematic spectacle, like a b movie given a massive budget and A list talent, which yields just a wild, insanely fun action movie. The action set pieces are well crafted, with that John Woo hyper stylish vibe and of course, plenty of doves are unleashed, in case you need a reminder of how bad ass Face/Off is. Of course, if you prefer more grounded, believable action cinema, you’ll scoff at how ridiculous this one is, as it jettisons common sense and asks you to constantly suspend disbelief like never before. But if you like high octane action, wild characters, a blistering pace, quotable dialogue, and an absolutely unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage, you need Face/Off.
Even by Nicolas Cage’s unfathomable standard for wild performances, his work here is just plain outlandish and a total treat to experience. The scene toward the start when he is dressed as a priest is enough to cement this as legendary Cage, but that is just a tease for the chaos that follows. As Castor Troy he is beyond over the top, like a Bond villain on mountains of cocaine and his facial expressions, mannerisms, and line delivery are just constant fun to watch. He more than embraces the manic side of Troy, just running at full speed and never holding back. His presence is scaled back somewhat when he is Sean Archer, but it is still some high level wackiness. In a career with a lot of wild, manic performances, I think this is one of Cage’s all time best freak outs and he is just an absolute blast to watch here. John Travolta gets to ham it up as well, but since Cage goes nuclear, Travolta’s effort takes a backseat. But he is still fun as well and dials up his persona, while Gina Gershon also camps it up and even delivers an awkward burst of incest at one point. The cast also includes Alessandro Nivola, John Carroll Lynch, Dominique Swain, and Joan Allen.