Movies

The Rundown: Leave ‘Face/Off’ Alone!

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items will vary, as will the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Don’t do it! Reconsider!

Let’s be very clear about this: It is not a good idea to try to remake Face/Off, as Paramount is now planning to do. I don’t say this because of nostalgia or concerns that doing so will retroactively ruin my childhood. I don’t say this because of remake fatigue, either. I’ve come to accept that this is just a part of life now. We’re going to make the same movies over and over until we’ve bled every penny out of them and then we’re going to bring them back as television shows. It’s not my favorite thing but I also saw the new live-action Aladdin in the theaters with my friend’s seven-year-old and she loved it, so hey. Bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

No, my thought process here is more straightforward than that, and it involves less yelling at clouds. I think remaking Face/Off is a bad idea because… how do you even start?

Face/Off is a truly insane movie. It stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, two of history’s most gluttonous scenery-chewers, and it has them pretending to be each other for the majority of the movie. Cage was coming off an iconic three-movie run: Leaving Las Vegas (which he won an Oscar for, a fact that gets crazier with every year that passes), Con Air, and The Rock. This was Peak Cage, in his prime. Travolta was piping hot, too, with his career resurgence in full-swing after Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. They were both firmly in their zone, willing — delighted, even — to take huge cuts at weird material in the way that really only the two of them can. It is really something to think about today, with 20 years of history in our rearview and both of them still making bonkers news. Read Cage’s interview in the New York Times! Watch the movie John Travolta made that was directed by Fred Durst! These two guys swapped faces in an action movie!

It gets better. Face/Off was directed by John Woo, a visionary action director who loves speedboats and doves and was getting his first big crack at a big-budget American film. He let it all hang out. Cage had two golden guns. Science was glossed right over as though it was a suggestion rather than a set of undeniable laws. There were so many face waterfalls.

The whole movie was a perfect storm of chaos. Everything clicked exactly as it needed to. It was vivid and insane and fun and as wild as a toddler on cold brew and I just don’t see how you can go about recreating that synthetically today. You’d either need to try to play it straighter and grittier like Michael Mann did with Miami Vice or do an extra-campy, tongue-in-cheek love song like the 21 Jump Street movies, which would feel off because the whole point of Cage and Travolta’s performances was that they were as earnest as they were completely unhinged. They weren’t trying to give the wackiest performances you’ve ever seen. They just did. You can’t artificially produce chaos like that. It just won’t feel right.

Maybe this is the best analogy. You know how some mornings you wake up after a particularly vivid and strange dream and you think “I gotta tell someone about this,” so then you sit down and start explaining it to a friend or partner (“… and then the eagle swooped down and grabbed my homework but, get this, the eagle had the voice of Helen Mirren and told me I was going to die…”) and you see their eyes start to glaze over after about 30 seconds? That’s what I’m afraid of here. Face/Off was a fever dream that escaped our collective subconscious and existed in the real world. We all experienced it first-hand, in real life. Trying to tell the story again now, diluted by time and without the anarchy of unpredictability, just won’t be the same. It will be like explaining a dream. I don’t see how it can be anything less than disappointing.

Unless, and please do hear me out on this because I swear I am not joking, we get the whole band back together again. Switch it up from a remake to a sequel. Cage, Travolta, Woo, all on board in 2019 to continue a story that appeared to end in 1997 with a death via spear gun. That’s a movie I can get behind. Or we cast The Rock and Vin Diesel and let Taika Waititi direct it while trying to prevent them from killing each other. These are the compromises I’m willing to make. I’m not unreasonable.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Matthew McConaughey is exactly who you think he is, thank God

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