Face/OffFace/Off, Collector's Edition on Blu-ray disc

Paramount is back in the Blu-ray biz, and we're delighted. After having abandoned the format in favor of HD DVD in 2007, the studio was left with digital egg on its corporate face when the rest of the industry went Blu-ray and the HD DVD format died, allowing for a single HD disc format to, with luck, flourish.

Now that Paramount is on board, we look forward to reviewing many of their titles, the first two of which are presented here.

There've been stories of wife swapping and stories of personality transfers. But John Woo's Face/Off may be the big screen's first action move in which the stars get to play each other not via some psychic wonder but through the wonders of modern (sci-fi) medicine.

The premise behind Face/Off is the exchanging of faces (and bodies, kind of) between super FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) and super non-Muslim terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). Archer has been obsessed with busting Troy for years, especially since Troy murdered his young son in a botched attempt at killing Archer.

Troy, meanwhile, is set to pull off a major WMD attack on the United States when he's captured, wounded and in a coma, by Archer and his team while trying to make his escape (with his brother Pollux) after setting the bomb.

Archer's left on the horns of a dilemma: he needs to find out where the bomb is (to save thousands of lives), but the only one who knows where it is is Pollux, who isn't about to spill the beans to Archer or anyone else.

Enter Modern Medicine, which offers Archer the chance to "become" Troy for a while (as with Star Trek episodes of years past, these procedures are completely reversible), get thrown into the ultra-high security secret prison in which Pollux is being held, gain his confidence as his brother, and nudge the info out of him.

Leaving aside the ludicrousness of expecting to get away with passing yourself off as someone's brother (with whom he's very close), it's a pretty neat concept. So Archer goes to jail.

Alas, as it turns out Castor isn't nearly as comatose as the script would have had us believe - and it's a good thing or the movie would only be about half an hour long and Travolta wouldn't earn his paycheck! He comes to, figures out what's up, and forces the good doctor and his team to rework their magic on him, giving him Archer's face. Then he burns down the medical facility, killing the medical team in the process, to destroy the evidence - and takes over Archer's life to ensure that the real Archer stays in jail and that his nefarious plots can continue.

It's pretty neat, in a silly way, and for the most part the filmmakers pull it off. It's hard to suspend your disbelief, though, when thousands of rounds of ammunition are fired, killing nearly everyone around and destroying all kinds of stuff in the process, yet no one seems able to hit the stars.

These guys' aim is simultaneously better and worse than George Lucas' Imperial Storm Troopers..

Travolta and Cage are both good in their roles, and get to stretch themselves a bit. And there's action enough to please the most jaded action movie fan, ludicrous as it may be in places.

This collector's edition BLu-ray disc is quite good, too. The 1080p picture is terrific, bright and sharp and clean, with very good color - though at times some of the faces appear a tad pasty. But overall, this is a first rate transfer.

Audio is offered in dts EX surround and it's loud and raucous, as befits the movie. Bass is deep and rich and full of punch, and the highs are clean and clear - and since there's plenty of ordnance being used here, you'll be pleased to know the ammo sounds very good, and the surround channels are put to excellent use.

Then there are the extras, including commentaries by director John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, seven deleted scenes (including an alternative ending with optional commentary) - in HD. There's also a couple of featurettes, including "The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off" and "John Woo: a Life in Pictures." You also get the trailer, in HD.

Not a particularly heavyweight entry into the action film archives, but a diverting couple of hours in the home theater regardless.

Face/Off, Collector's Edition, from Paramount Home Entertainment
140 min. 1080p, 2.35:1, dts EX surround
Starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon,
Written by Mike Werb & Michael Colleary, Directed by John Woo.

NextNext on Blu-ray Disc

That title pretty well sums up our opinion: toss this one away and see what's up "next".

It's too bad; this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story has some neat ideas, but in the end we felt cheated by its ending as well as by its shortage of logic.

Nicolas Cage is Cris Johnson, a low-tier Vegas magician whose act works because he really has magical powers. Or powers, anyway. He can see the future, but not in a crystal ball way: he can only see his own future, and only up to two minutes ahead.

This ability brings him to the attention of the Feds, as personified by Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who we guess has nothing else to do than research obscure Vegas acts hoping to find the next great crime fighter (did Superman once work as a circus strongman, too, before being discovered?).

She's figured out his act is real and pretty much nailed his capabilities, and now (over the objections of her compatriots, who in another movie would look like the smart ones) wants to enlist him in their quest to foil some blond headed, blue eyed terrorists (evil Presbyterians, perhaps? Who else practices terrorism these days?) who have a nuke.

Meanwhile, Cris has discovered an interesting new wrinkle on his power. He sees a woman (Jessica Biel), but since he didn't come across her within two minutes knows that somehow his power is different with her - and that must mean it's Destiny for them to be together. So he uses his Spidey sense - sorry, future sense - to figure out different opening lines he can use on her - and the next thing you know they're heading off to Arizona in her Land Cruiser.

If we were Cris, we'd use the future sense to sit in Vegas sports books  and place bets on games that are about to be won in come from behind victories in the final two minutes, but that's just us - and we admit freely that Back to the Future did a much better job of the time travel motif than Next does. But we digress..

Somehow (it may be explained in the movie, but if so we missed it), the terrorists also have a bead on Cris, so he's actually running from both sides. Who will grab him, or off him, first? Well, we know it won't be the bad guys 'cause otherwise this 96 minute ordeal would be over in 60 - which come to think of it may not have been a bad thing. But the terrorists can't shoot worth a darn, which is probably why they need a nuke to do their dirty work, and it's the feds who get their talons into Cris first. And since he's seen a vision whereby his new love (though all they've had so far is a one night stand) doesn't make it to the closing credits he decides to throw in his lot with the good old U.S.A. (If he'd done this earlier we could have also saved a half hour of basically standard chase stuff).

So we end up in Los Angeles, after the bad guys have kidnapped Biel's character, in a race against time. Or is it?

The Los Angeles sequence is one of the lengthier ones of the flick, and that makes the whammy at the end of it even harder to take. Did they really only have enough material for a one hour movie and have to stretch it?


Okay, Cage is fine, as is Moore, though she comes off as a bit of an air head (albeit one who can shoot well), and Biel is appropriately decorative. And it was neat to see Thomas Kretschmann along as the head terrorist. He last came to our attention in Peter Jackson's masterful retelling of the King Kong classic, and we liked him there - though he doesn't have a lot to do here.

It's a shame that Next fails. We remember off the tops of our heads three terrific sci-fi movies that have been based on the work of Philip K. Dick: Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. This movie isn't fit to hold their water. Maybe there's a good two or 2.5 hour movie in here trying to get out, and if so we'd love to see it again (though the L. A. debacle makes us doubtful), but as it stands currently, this is a movie to avoid.

The 1080p picture quality of the Blu-ray is better than the quality of the script, though perhaps not quite up to reference or "show off" Blu-ray disc standards. There's nothing really wrong with it, but we've seen other discs that are sharper, more colorful, offer more "depth", etc. .

Audio is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround and it's also very good. Bullets and other assorted bits of mayhem come through very nicely, front to rear inclusive, and the ambient sounds are also presented nicely. It's a pretty dynamic soundtrack, though not room-shaking, but it's clean and very listenable..

Extras, which are in HD, include "Making the Next Thing", "The Next Grand Idea", "Two Minutes in the Future  with Jessica Biel" (we only made it one minute) and "Visualizing the Next Movie." All told, they're as good and as interesting as the film.

Next, from Paramount Home Entertainment
96 min. 1080p, Uncompressed PCM Audio
Starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Peter Falk
written by Gary Goldman, directed by Lee Tamahori

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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