Turns out the movie Face Off is just… unbelievably bad. I realize that this isn’t exactly a newsflash for anyone. Or maybe it is, as I have just discovered that it rates an 82/100 on metacritic. Bizarre. At any rate, I remember seeing Face Off when it came out; even at the relatively unjaded age of twelve I was skeptical and unimpressed. This is all old news at this point, but rewatching the movie as a semi-mature, fully grown human I discovered it is actually impressively bad, from the science to the dialogue
Now, just in case anybody actually cares, SPOILER ALERT. I’m talking full-on ruiners. I am definitely going to be telling you how the movie ends. Because it is messed up. There’s also some cussing.
The film is positively laden with symbolism, primarily biblical and Latinate to my eye, but to do with the more global concepts of good, evil, identity, family, and, for some reason, a lot of damn pigeons. I’m picturing Mr. Woo calling out, “I need more pigeons in this scene! No, more! I’m going to need at least three times as many pigeons!” Which brings me to another point: the cinematography of the film is much too heavy-handed and overwrought for such a tragically frail and unconsidered screenplay. The latter simply can’t carry the former, instead collapsing into a disjointed mess of stilted dialogue interspersed with flashy action sequences which can’t quite pretend to form a sensible whole and which culminate in a grotesque ribbon-and-a-bow tie-up ending. We’ll get to that.
I don’t even know where to begin tearing apart the “science”. If I tried to point out every flaw, this would be a very long, very boring tirade. Let’s go for one out of two and keep it short. I’ll just go with the most obvious problem: even if we allow that medical science might advance to allow for perfect face transplants and super-fast healing processes and pretending Travolta and Cage are the same height or have remotely similar teeth… all that jazz! Anyway, ignoring that, if you put a piece of molded plastic between a person’s skull and their face, where do the muscles attach? Think about it. Can’t make those patented Nicolas Cage crazyeyes (or even open your eyes) with no motor control.
On the plus side, the acting is good, for what they had to work with. I enjoy Joan Allen. Nic Cage is made out of crazy. John Travolta… he mystifies me. He doesn’t look quite real, does he? But he did his thing. Gina Gershon manages to charm, despite her character’s under-development. Nods also to Nick Cassavetes and Alessandro Nivola.
And the “happy ending”? Your previously troubled daughter is suddenly well-adjusted, and we got you a new son! Castor Troy may have taken your child from you, but it’s cool; you can have his! Never mind the fact that the boy will never be able to watch The Wizard of Oz again without suffering PTSD flashbacks of his two dads shooting the shit out of each other’s posses. He also has sociopath genes! Now I’m not suggesting that the theoretical Sean Archer shouldn’t have taken in the theoretical Adam Hassler. Good on him, that kid needs a home. I’m merely questioning the storytelling that ignores just… everything in its obedience to the neat-little-package ending.
And hey, what is with all the face-petting? It’s supposed to be this tender gesture. Has anybody ever done that to you? It is very annoying. Try it on somebody some time. If you really want to patronize and antagonize them, try it when they’re upset about something (Archer does this to his wife). If somebody pulled that shit with me I’d want to punch them right in their accessorizable face.