Sunday, June 22, 2008

What happens when you take two of the world’s most over the top actors and put them in a film that forces them to over act even more than normal? Pure cinematic gold. That’s what happens.

The film begins with John Travolta as Sean Archer and Nicolas Cage as Castor Troy. Archer is a tightwad government agent whose idea of a good time is breaking balls, crying and grieving over his dead son. Troy on the other hand is a cool super-criminal, the sort of man who sucks tongues for breakfast and kills children for lunch. Therefore their world views are slightly, how you say, different.

The opening scene sees Archer with his young son Michael on a merry-go-round. Twinkly music plays and father and son laugh, and you immediately know something bad is going to happen, because they’re enjoying themselves far too much. Then Troy appears on a grassy knoll, complete with gun and porn moustache, and accidentally kills the child when trying to kill Archer. Yep, the loathing between the two characters is personal.

One should never expect subtlety from a film that’s called Face/Off, but the complete lack of restraint in the opening scenes pleases me a great deal. We see Castor Troy plant a bomb in an exhibition centre while dressed as a priest. And then when his work is done he comes across a choir singing Handel. With a big crucifix around his neck, Cage then proceeds to clap his hands and headbang. And then he sees a girl he likes. He talks to her for a bit and then grabs her arse. He then makes a face like he’s splattered his robe – he’s experienced an earth-shattering orgasm.

But then a bit later Castor Troy takes a flight on a private jet. Cage, for some inexplicable reason, starts talking in a fake British accent, saying he’s bored and that he wants the flight to take off. And then he spots what he thinks is a flight attendant (it’s really an undercover FBI agent). He gets the woman to sit on his lap and then asks her to suck his tongue, which she enthusiastically does. He’s kind of like a rock and roll star. However, there is one disturbing thing about this tongue sucking. Troy’s geeky brother Pollux watches the whole thing and then yelps like he’s pitched an aggressive trouser tent. I shudder to think what goes on in private between those two.

The action scene that follows sees Archer try and prevent Troy’s private jet from taking off. It’s fun stuff, but it’s the little details that make me laugh. For instance, at one point Troy shouts ‘Fly, bitch!’ at the pilot. I like that. I like it a lot. Although it must be noted that for years I thought the line was, ‘Fly, Mitch’ – for some reason the personal touch made the line even funnier to me, especially as he kills the pilot a few moments later. And then afterwards, when Archer and Troy are face to face with guns pointed at each other, Troy asks Archer whether his daughter is ripening and then begins barking. But then when he finds out that his gun is empty, he suddenly gets on his knees, fake sobs and begins singing. I love the scene chewing from Cage.

Therefore, with Cage getting to do so much fun stuff, you initially feel a bit sorry for Travolta. He has to play a humourless knob. I mean, there’s one scene, after they catch Troy, where his entire team applauds him. He’s even given a bottle of champagne. But then he bums everyone out by refusing the booze and by dedicating it to all the agents that died in the gnarly slow-mo action scenes. What a pisser.

But then we have the face switch. Of course the reasoning for the whole thing is complete bollocks. Basically, with Troy comatose, Archer needs to go undercover and find out from Troy’s brother, who’s in prison, where the bomb is. And in order to do this, he needs Troy’s face. But then would you believe it, once Archer has Cage’s face and is undercover in prison, Troy wakes up from his coma, round up lots of medical staff, has them put Travolta’s face on him and kills everyone who knows about the operation. Things just couldn’t get worse for Sean Archer, could they?

Well, yes they can, because now Castor Troy is living Sean Archer’s life. That includes living in his house, bringing up his daughter and fucking his wife. And the film has great fun with this. We see the Travoltered Troy woo Archer’s wife and treat her to a candlelit dinner. We also see him ogle her arse. She’s going to have more fun with him than she ever did with her real husband.

And there’s a great scene where the Travoltered Troy visits the Caged Archer in prison. Of course, Archer is rather surprised. And then Troy tells his nemesis that he now has a government job to abuse and a lonely wife to fuck. But then in a great piece of acting from Travolta, he backtracks and says, ‘Did I say fuck? Make love to.’ It’s really funny.

And after the beginning of the film it’s fun to see Travolta unleashed. He can eat up the scenery just as well as Cage. And there’s lots of comedy to be had in the fact that briefly this super-criminal becomes the ideal husband and father. He fucks his wife, which Archer hadn’t been doing, and then when Archer’s daughter begins to get harassed by a date, he kicks his foot through a Corvette window and beats the guy up. And then later he gives his daughter a knife for protection. Very briefly they’re a happy family.

But one thing puzzles me about the face/off operation. We hear that as well as changing faces, the operation will take care of love handles and a microchip in the throat will alter the voice. But what about cock? Did that get changed? And if not, wouldn’t Archer’s wife have noticed that her husband suddenly turned either into a donkey or a hamster? But I guess they could have the same size dong. But at the same time, I’m willing to bet that Troy is better hung. I just can’t see lardo Travolta having anything to boast about in the pants department. But even if the sizes were the same, wouldn’t a myriad of other penile quirks and characteristics give the game away to a loving wife? ‘Why does Sean’s dong point to the left now? What happened to Sean’s foreskin? How come Sean now knows what to do with his sword?’ Oh wait, I’m trying to bring logic to a film that’s about men having their faces swapped. Never mind.

But although the film is funny and incredibly violent, it’s also rather sappy. Archer, now with Cage’s face, has to seek refuge with Troy’s criminal friends. We then find out that Troy has a son. And would you believe it, he’s the same age as Archer’s dead son Michael. This temporarily makes Archer goes mental, squeezing the kid like mad and calling him Michael. But again, like Troy briefly becomes the ideal husband and father, Archer does the same with his new girlfriend and son. Both men thrive a little in their new lives.

But if there was a competition between the two for who best adapts to their new environment, Troy would win. There’s a great bit, after he finds and disarms the bomb that starts the film, where his team treat him to a hero’s welcome. Remember that last time, when Archer really was Archer, he bummed everyone out when they tried to celebrate one of his victories. But this time he laps everything up and his team loves him for it. And then to cap everything off, his secretary tells him that the President is on the line and that his wife is on line two. Troy then tells his secretary to put the President on hold while groping his secretary’s bum. What a guy.

But the good times can’t last for ever and eventually Archer’s wife finds out that she’s been getting porked by her son’s murderer. Cue doves, slow-motion and lots of guns.

The final action scene is a reminder of how much more fun action scenes are when stunts are used instead of CGI. We see speedboats race through piers and we see men hanging off boats, and even though sometimes the stunt doubles are far too obvious, it allows you to enjoy the scene much more than you would if it were just computer pixels.

But even for a silly film, the ending is ridiculous. Somehow, even though all the evidence for the operation is lost and all the medical staff are dead, Archer’s real face is restored to him. Phew. That was incredibly convenient.

And then on top of this, you have the scene where Archer returns home. It’s filmed through a dreamy haze, and then after he’s hugged his family and his daughter apologises for shooting him (the poor girl gets awful confused when she sees her dad with someone else’s face), he brings Troy’s son in with him – a readymade replacement for his dead son. It’s incredibly sappy, but like the rest of the film, I fall for it.

But still, I can’t help but contemplate all the psychiatry that these characters will need. First of all, you have a woman sleeping with her son’s murderer. Then you have a daughter shooting her dad. Then you have a daughter getting a gun pointed at her and getting licked by a man who looks like her dad. Then you have a man killing a man who has his face. You’d be so fucked up after that. But then again, apparently a cute moptop who’s the spawn of your son’s murderer will make everything a-ok.

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