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Face/OffFace/Off, Collector's Edition on DVD

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 he's 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 untold 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 DVD is quite good, too. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and is bright and sharp and clean, with very good color. Audio is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts surround and it's also good, with nice use of the surround channels. We'd have liked to hear more deep, rumbling bass from the .1 low frequency effects channel, though.

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

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. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV Compatible)/Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts surround
Starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon,
Written by Mike Werb & Michael Colleary, Directed by John Woo.

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

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