To be fair, Face/Off (or, Freaky Friday meets Hard Boiled) is one fun ride, no matter how daffy the plot may be. But let’s ignore the implausibilities of Woo’s picture—we have to if we’re intent on enjoying ourselves as much as the bankable hit-or-miss stars seem to be. Cage and Travolta (or Travolta and Cage) are both given the difficult task of imitating the other—not just the characters, but the actor’s own personas. Their subtlety makes their seemingly wooden performances quite enrapturing.
Travolta is [for the first act] the grieving Sean Archer (we know he’s in grief because of his five o’clock shadow), with a personal vendetta targeted at Cage’s Castor Troy for murdering his son seven years earlier [note the astrological significance in name]. When their identities are switched through a futuristic surgical procedure (the voice morphs via microchip), screenwriters Mike Werb & Michael Colleary open the door to occasionally smart scenarios, always dumb one-liners, and a jab at Travolta’s famous cleft chin.
Watching the leads in alien environments provides humor. Archer [Cage’s Troy] cozies up in suburban “hell” with an unloved wife (Allen) and a teenage daughter (Dominique Swain, in her debut performance) whom he makes incestuous advances on. The other side of the looking glass shows Troy [Travolta’s Archer] stealing secrets from his devoted “brother” Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) and facing the seduction of a “lover” (Gina Gershon).
Though bogged down by a faulty script, Woo redeems with the $80 mil budget--still, the visible wires are a bit insulting. Though Woo typically operates on a separate plain from other action filmmakers, with so much emphasis on style and set pieces, you may think you’re watching a Michael Bay production, particularly when it comes to the movie’s length. There are two genres that should rarely exceed two hours, and the action is one of them. Face/Off runs 140 minutes, and though it’s a far from necessary runtime (as it drags mercilessly in its final act, which gifts a few unintentional laughs), Woo does make fair use of the bulk of his work with adrenaline-spiking chases in the air and sea, as well as an enveloping story. Pardon the pun, but if I were you, I would give Face/Off the chance it may not warrant at first glance.
Commentary by Director John Woo and Writers Mike Werb & Michael Colleary: A decent enough listen, but may have worked better with just Woo, considering the second commentary also features the writers. Still, always a pleasure to hear Woo’s insights.
Commentary by Writers Mike Werb & Michael Colleary: Much more informative from a technical standpoint, with notes on the development of the story. If you’re going to listen to just one commentary, make it this one.
Deleted Scenes (8:18): There are 7 here, and judging solely on their running time, you can tell there isn’t a whole hell of a lot as far as improving the theatrical cut. Still, some are entertaining enough for a glance.
The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off (1:04:01) is a lengthy documentary divided into 5 parts: Science Fiction/Human Emotion is reserved for the story’s development; Cast/Characters has Travolta & Cage (as well as crew members) offering their thoughts on their characters; Woo/Hollwood is, quite obviously, a look at Woo’s working habits and trademarks (this section would’ve worked better in the below feature); Practical/Visual Effects delves into the stunts and similarly categorized effects; Future/Past is more of a focus on John Woo and the final picture.
John Woo: A Life in Pictures (26:06): Here, Woo (amongst others) discusses his past, his films (both Hong Kong and American), his love for all art, and other topics. This is a solid biography on Woo that may peak the interest in Asian cinema (or at least other Woo works) for action buffs.
And the Theatrical Trailer.