Or: John Travolta Touches Children...
As we grow older we all must invariably face the fact that the rose colored glasses through which we view the past are likely to get more and more shit-stained with the passing of time. Things we once loved or loved us look good only through the relative distance and passage of time. As I've written about before, if our memories ever were a truly objective record of the past, it's likely none of us would be able to live with ourselves. There is no better illustration of this sorry feature of the maturing process than re-watching movies that a 13 or 14 year old version of myself thought were pure genius. Face/Off was one such movie, one that I remember not only liking, but basically thinking was the epitome of all that was awesome, anchored by the brilliant performances of Messrs. Cage and Travolta and always subtle direction of John Woo. Having actually re-watched this entire movie last week, I must ever so slightly revise my original opinion, as the movie I watched was almost two hours of Cage and Travolta going full retard amidst a plot ludicrous and nonsensical even by the standards of action movies, which all could have been forgivable were it not for the endlessly repeated motif of Travolta or Cage as Travolta touching children, and dragging his sausage fingers down their faces as some twisted sign of affection. That, and just looking at Nicolas Cage's spastic facial expressions or "acting" is still the funniest thing going in cinema.
The most amazing thing about re-watching this movie is the fact that I clearly remember thinking that the film's central contrivance--that some super-surgery could allow you to convincingly swap faces with another person--was completely on the level. Seeing it now, I wondered as long as they were going for vaguely futuristic pseudo-science, why wouldn't they just have the two principles just swap consciousness? Perhaps criss-crossing and imprinting opposing brain-waves was simply a bridge too far, and they figured just slapping someone's face onto a fucking skull like a bit of deli meat was far more believable. Again, Travolta's fat head is simply too large for Cage's face, and were such a thing actually possible, it would look so abominable that the real-life face-transplant woman would look pleasantly kissable in comparison. Please use this moment to imagine what Nicolas Cage's face stapled and stretched to fit over John Travolta's head would actually look like. You may never sleep again.
Like every other John Woo movie there is ton of very decent, thoroughly choreographed gun play, which again, absolutely amazed me when I first saw it, but now it just seems like his immigration to Hollywood completely lobotomized whatever part of his brain is capable of feeling shame. Christ, again and again with those fucking doves, I'm not sure why, but the maudlin melodramatics of his Hong Kong days never seemed even half as hammy when hundreds of Chinese people were being gunned down in slow motion amidst the fluttering of pigeons, but maybe it's just the generally inscrutable nature of Asians to a Western audience that dulled much of the inherent ridiculousness.
For all it's stupidity, there was actually a nub of what could have been an interesting movie contained within, involving the idea of a master-cop/master-criminal trading lives. I liked the idea that as soon as Cage takes over Travolta's life, his wife, family, and friends immediately like him immensely more than the straight-laced bore they've previously suffered under. He lays his wife better, cooks her dinner, showers her with affection, does his job better, relates to his sullen teenage daughter, and is all around a better person, employee, and father, despite being a mass-murdering impostor. I liked this idea so much, that while watching I formulated an alternate-version of this movie that could have been a million times better. Start with the brain-wave swap and not the idiotic face-swap, but use that a jump-off to explore the idea of the everyman-as-sociopath and the razor thin line between cop and criminal. The master-criminal really would make the best cop, because he'd already perfectly honed the instincts and knowledge of the criminal mind that most G-men take a lifetime trying to accumulate. Conversely, the upright family man turned life-time inmate would use his knowledge and experience as a Fed to become a ruthless prison gang leader. Perversely, both men would find a new found sense of freedom and self-actualization in their bizarro-swapped lives: the terrorist learning he really can get away with everything on the opposite side of the law playing it straight as the family man and All-American dad, and his antagonist, long imprisoned within the confines of the same family life and moral rectitude would become fulfilled in a way he previously thought unimaginable, i.e. Gina Gershon and a box full of drugs. Maybe he breaks out of prison, maybe he's released by cutting a deal to dish all the dirt he knows about the FBI, but in the end both men would come face to face, so to speak, with the dilemma of whether they wanted their old bodies/lives back, and would, of course decide not to go back to the way things used to be, perfectly content to live the other's life.
I suppose the transformation of sincerity to irony is a regrettable, but ultimately necessary part of growing up, all I can say is I'm glad I made it through the teenage years without getting a tattoo.
The one element of the movie that actually survived this journey intact was Cage's box of fun, which I still thought was pretty damn cool. It traveled everywhere with him and featured twin gold-plated .45s, a fat clip of crisp hundos, a dozen or so pre-rolled joints, pills of various colors and sizes, and my personal favorite, a box of Chicklets.