Monday, July 18, 2005

Face/Off (John Woo)

This movie, unlike the other American John Woo films I've seen, looks a lot like his Hong Kong stuff. It's ridiculous, sentimental, overblown, exciting, fun. Fired bullets are filmed in loving slow motion like weird fetish objects. The villain and the hero are inextricably linked through some odd bond (in this case, swapping faces). The action set-pieces are a frenzied, vulgar, maximalist orgy, especially the finale. In Face/Off's final battle, a boat crashes through another boat. The boats don't crash into each other. One boat crashes through the other boat. Splits that mother in two. Oh yeah. I've read some criticisms of this film (mostly of the fanboy variety on imdb messageboards), and the consensus seems to be that this is a good action movie, but the viewer must set aside the utter ridiculousness of John Travolta's cop undergoing a covert surgical facial swap with Nicolas Cage's comatose super-villain in order to trick his brother into revealing the whereabouts of a bomb. Critics of the film apparently feel this ridiculousness damages the otherwise plausible universe of the modern action film. These people are idiots. The modern action film is always implausible and ridiculous. Taking this ridiculousness to ridiculariffic extremes can only improve the modern action film. The plot is insanely stupid, and I wholeheartedly endorse the sublimity of this stupidity. It allows Cage and Travolta to ham it up, to have fun, to play themselves, their characters, each other's characters, and each other. A lot more fun than watching Schwarzenegger smash a few things up, kill some Arabs, hang from a helicopter, and spout a few monosyllabic catchphrases. (In addition, Cage and Travolta will probably not become terrible governors.) That said, I have two major reservations. 1. Joan Allen plays Travolta's long-suffering wife (she's played more long-suffering wives than any woman in acting history).. He's always got his mind on his work, never on romance, blah blah blah. This subplot is in roughly 74 percent of mainstream action movies and police thrillers released in the last fifty years. The movie grinds to a halt whenever these scenes occur. They could have shitcanned this entire subplot and, though it would have required a few re-shufflings of plot and character motivation, it would have made the movie better and shorter. 2. Occasionally, Woo douses the film in a coat of pretentious, high-art sheen that is humorless and embarrassing. The most egregious violations include a child listening to his headphones during a climactic gunfight while he's lit with a spotlight from above, soundtrack dropping out except for the ironic counterpoint of the innocuous little children's song as he gazes with puppy dog eyes at the carnage escalating around him, and a scene in a church that could have been titled "A Shitload of White Doves + A Crucifix = Symbolic Truth." Also, Margaret Cho is in this movie for no discernible reason. I can overlook these flaws, however, because I get to see a boat crashing through a boat. I love that.

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