Face/Off arrives with the same disappointment. Certainly, there are a couple of standout sequences where John Woo shines the opening with John Travolta bringing down an airplane by ramming it with a helicopter, a high-speed speedboat chase at the climax but these are formulaic set-pieces in comparison to any other big-budget action film. By now, Woos trademark stylistic touches Nicolas Cages coat flapping up behind him in the breeze in slow-motion, he handing over money in a fanged gold money clip and, in particular, a ridiculously overdone shootout in a church filled with dozens of doves fluttering about and multiple Mexican standoffs between about six people in a circle are starting to verge on unintentional self-parody.
Face/Off has a potentially interesting premise of an action hero and a criminal swapping identities unfortunately, one soon realises, an action film is the wrong genre for such a concept. The way the idea ends up, it is no more than a novelty gimmick. There is no plausibility or believability to the basic premise the surgery on display is utterly preposterous it is impossible to accept the degree of indistinguishable believability that the script requires us to believe of the operation. Moreover,Woo only handles the idea in the most formulaic of ways. A far more interesting film and certainly one that would not be beyond the films stretch of imagination would have told it as a psychological story rather than as an action film. There are moments where the script suggests more like where, after exchanging identities, both the hero and villain end up bettering the relationships in the others life the villain loosening John Travoltas life up and bringing back the passion his wife is missing, the hero bringing humanity to the thugs in Nicolas Cages life. However, Woo has no real interest in the human element and just as quickly is off to another explosive gun battle.
The sad truth about John Woos American films it seems is that no matter what type of film he is making be it a war film (Windtalkers), a spy caper film (Mission: Impossible II), a reality-bending sf film (Paycheck) or an identity exchange film (here) the balletically charged action movie seems to be the only kind of film he is capable of making. One wishes that Woo would find some other game to play as he is starting to seem like a one-trick pony.
Nicolas Cage and John Travolta are clearly having fun playing taking turns playing hero and villain. These bodyswap films usually either sink or swim depending on either actors ability to imitate the others mannerisms. However, the crucial failure is that neither convinces that they are inhabiting the others body in any way.
John Woos other genre films are:- the human hunting film Hard Target (1993); the nuclear hijacking film Broken Arrow (1995); Mission: Impossible II (2000); and the Philip K. Dick adaptation Paycheck (2003). Woo also directed the tv pilot The Robinsons: Lost in Space (2004) and has produced Western Wu Xia film Bulletproof Monk (2003), the anime Appleseed Ex Machina (2007) and the Wu Xia Reign of Assassins (2010).