Bravura acting and an astonishing plot are rare commodities that could have made this a major film.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

When Hollywood decides what the public wants, the public had better hunker down for the siege. Now that they know we want our entertainment to be awash in graphic, sadistic violence, they have given us a summer saturated with blood and limbs. And now we have "Face/Off."

What sets this one apart is terrific direction by John Woo, an extremely clever script, and a soaring acting duet by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. The movie is, of course, then dipped in special-effects carnage in order to pull us to the multiplex to pay off the studio's debt in one weekend. The public pays the price for this cynicism. Once again a good movie is consumed by its own fireworks.

The film opens with FBI agent Sean Archer and his little boy riding a merry-go-round in a blissful moment of parental magic. Their lives are shattered by a bullet from the gun of Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) that wounds Archer and kills his son. After six years of single-minded pursuit that nearly destroys his marriage, Archer captures Troy in an airport chase that involves a wild assortment of vehicles and men who are mostly burned alive by fireballs or blown apart by gunfire. We are now just a few minutes into this film.

Face/Off--not as in hockey but as in "You take mine, I'll take yours," or, rather, John Travolta takes Nicolas Cage's and Cage takes his. The grotesque details of these face-lifts may slow down the parade of women seeking eternal youth in the surgeon's laser. In order to find the bomb Troy has preprogrammed to eradicate Los Angeles with nerve gas, Archer agrees to assume the face of his comatose enemy. When Troy wakes up, he insists on having Archer's face, which now lies preserved in clear liquid, grafted to his. By now we have endured two face- lifts that scare the bejeezus out of us.

What we also have--and this is the infuriating part--are two hugely creative performances from Travolta and Cage, who manage to inject real emotion into the maelstrom. John Travolta horrifies us with the spectacle of a good man's spirit trapped in the body of his enemy. Nicolas Cage, a snake inhabiting the body of a boy scout, uses his new identity as a passport to the world that is hunting him. These actors are so good that we are chilled to the bone by just the idea of what they are doing.

So why does it have to be wrapped in flame and bullets? We already have a sinister story that makes clever use of the frightening technology that is creeping up on the world. Bravura acting and an astonishing plot are rare commodities that could have made this a major film. Why mess it up? If only someone had summoned the courage to say no to special effects, this would be the movie it should have been.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h18m

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