With Thanksgiving officially behind us, it’s time to focus on the more important holiday, cinematically speaking; Christmas. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what theme, what group of movies, would best embody the holiday spirit. And Un”Cage”d Christmas was born! From now until Christmas, the Friday vault will be ruled by Nicolas Cage films.
You may be asking yourself, what the hell does Nicolas Cage have to do with Christmas?! Granted, he’s only done a few holiday movies over his career, but Cage is a gifted actor that just keeps on giving to his audiences. That and I thought Un”Cage”d Christmas sounds pretty damned cool.
Six years after inadvertently murdering the son of FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta), the maniacal terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) is in downtown ‘Hell-A’ planting a bomb of biblical proportions. His operation is jeopardized when his brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), charters a jet, alerting Archer to their presence. Castor and Archer face off, with Castor ending up in a coma. With no leads on the bomb’s location, Dr. Miller (CCH Pounder) approaches Archer with a proposition; to enter the federal penitentiary, Erehwon, as Castor Troy to gather intel from Pollux. Using cutting edge surgical technology, Dr. Walsh (Colm Feore) swaps Castor’s face onto Sean’s. However, the procedure is traumatic enough that Castor awakens, assumes Sean’s identity, and flaunts it to the true Sean. Sean/Troy escapes Erehwon to stop Castor/Archer. Let the madness begin.
Director John Woo, who was given creative control of this project, knows to make a gripping action movie: you go big, or you go home. And it doesn’t get much bigger than a) forcing your hero to trade places with your villain by surgically swapping faces and b) having said hero and villain played by two of the most over-the-top actors in Hollywood. From minute number one Cage seems to have been given free rein to be as wild as imaginable, and Cage fans know his crazy well runs deeper than most. Conversely, you have Travolta whose Archer is the epitome of a wet blanket. Even early on when he captures Troy, his son’s murderer, he chastises his team for celebrating instead of mourning their fallen coworkers. Face/Off really gets cooking when Travolta is let loose to lavish in Castor’s craziness and Cage has to act like the tormented killjoy Archer pretending to portray the insane Castor. Of the two, I have to hand it to Cage. Sure, Travolta gets to mock his ‘ridiculous chin,’ but Cage captures that pushed-to-the-limits of sanity needed to be Cage portraying Travolta portraying Archer who’s portraying Castor as portrayed by Cage. Make sense?
Face/Off needs these dramatic scenes to keep from being completely nonsensical. It’s hard enough to swallow the idea that a few hours of plastic surgery, a haircut, and a microchip can make a wife like Eve (Joan Allen) or a paranoid brother like Pollux not recognize someone they love, but take away the emotional heft and you lose all credibility. Some may argue Woo goes too big. I’ll admit, even though it’s a complex story, it’s indulgent. The final act’s boat chase was actually an idea Woo had for Hard Target which he wedged into this story. Also, the at-risk child amid a slo-mo hail of gunfire set to Somewhere Over the Rainbow…yeah, that’s a bit much. Twenty minutes could easily be shaved from the runtime, sparing audiences from some lengthy shoot-outs and embellished slow motion.
But in the heat of watching Face/Off, none of that really matters. Cage and Travolta suck you in with their performances, Woo sucks you in with his gun-fu action, and none of them stop chewing it up until the credits roll.