How do I begin to describe the 90s cult-classic Face/Off? Well, it features one of the most ridiculous scripts ever written, two of the most ridiculous performances ever given, and some of the most ridiculous action sequences ever filmed; if you didn’t know any better it would be reasonable to assume it’s a movie made by a bunch of aliens masking themselves as human.
And guess what? I love this movie with every fiber of my being.
Face/Off is the epitome of the good-bad movie. Sure, it’s stupid on nearly every possible level, yet it brings me unparalleled joy to watch unlike some other bad movies which are so bogged up in trying to be serious and provocative that they feel like a chore to watch. Face/Off, on the other hand, might pound-for-pound be my most quotable movie of all time, with each scene containing so many uniquely bizarre moments that there is never a moment to wipe the smile from my face.
The plot is also brilliant. Nic Cage and John Travolta swap faces, each living the lives of the other, but there’s a catch: one of them is a cop and the other is a terrorist. So, this means that you have John Travolta — the cop — doing a Nicolas Cage impression for the majority of the movie as an undercover terrorist, and vice versa. Is there anything more perfect? There is no script better suited for Travolta and Cage, two weirdos who I absolutely adore as actors who commit to their roles to the nth degree here. Are they taking this seriously? Are they in on the joke? Does it even matter? (Not really.)
The wild story and performances are only elevated by action scenes that are equally, if not even more, over-the-top. Famous action filmmaker John Woo displays a Michael Bay-level love for explosions but with more elegance and style, leading to some set-pieces that are both hilarious and thrilling in spades. The action scenes are genuinely great on a technical level, featuring sharp editing and framing that ensures the action doesn’t feel exhausting, but rather like ridiculous over-the-top fun that complements the story. It’s almost as if Woo wanted this to be his rebuttal against watered-down American action movies, instead opting to bring hyper-stylized carnage with little care for how it might be looked down upon from a high-brow lens.
There are certain hills I’m willing to die on as a film fan, and my stance that Face/Off is a trashy, pulpy masterpiece is absolutely one of them. It features a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of mayhem and absurdity that could only exist in a summer movie, and we would be better off embracing its fun in all its glory as opposed to hoping for something more ‘high-art’. After all, does it even get more high-art than this?