FACE/OFF (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Intense Sequences of Strong Violence, and for Strong Language

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Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Mike Werb & Michael Colleary

Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain & Nick Cassavetes

If there are two actors who have really been slumming it lately, they would be John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. These two were huge at the height of their career, but have since wound up as washed-up has-beens taking any role that comes across their desks (how else would one explain Cage’s output for the last 5 years?). FACE/OFF is a ridiculous action flick with a really silly premise that allows for a maximum amount of fun, while also providing an excuse for Cage and Travolta to go as over-the-top as humanly possible in their roles…as each other.

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Sean Archer is a loose-cannon FBI agent who doesn’t play by the rules. After the death of his son, Archer has made it his personal mission to take down high-profile terrorist Castor Troy. Archer should feel accomplished once he’s caught Troy (who winds up in a coma), but there’s still a big problem. A bomb is loose in the city (of course) and there’s only one possible (and highly ludicrous) way to stop it from going off. Archer must undergo a shocking super-secret surgery to switch faces with Troy in order to get the location of the bomb out of Troy’s brother. Unfortunately for Archer, the now faceless Troy wakes up from his coma and steals Archer’s face. With their identities switched, the real Archer (wearing Troy’s face) must escape from prison and save his family from Castor Troy (who’s wearing Archer’s face)!

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At the very least, one can reasonably say that this movie’s plot is very silly. You pretty much know what you’re going in for from the get-go. The storyline doesn’t deviate from a predictable course of events with any huge twists or turns. It’s a big dumb popcorn-muncher and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Occasionally, junk food can be just as satisfying than a steak. That is exactly the case with this movie. There are occasional plot holes and silliness abounding, but it’s all in good fun without any pretensions about being taken seriously.

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The best thing about FACE/OFF’s premise is that it provides a flimsy enough excuse for Cage and Travolta to do their best impressions of each other. Kudos to both of these performers, because they do a good job of taking on two completely separate roles. John Travolta plays a pretty bland cop character to begin with, but is allows a lot of wiggle room when he’s crazy Troy. Cage actually is a bit too over-the-top and ridiculous as Troy, but gets significantly better when he transforms into the hero with a villain’s face. The supporting cast is completely forgettable. That’s not a huge problem though, because we all know that the real draw of FACE/OFF is to see Travolta and Cage…well, facing off against each other.

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As fun and hugely entertaining as the action scenes can be, there are definite moments where John Woo gets way too bombastic. There are lots of needless explosions and a cast of people who miss when shooting targets who are a mere few feet away (including both Cage and Travolta). Lots of silly screaming, firework sound effects, and overused slow motion are frequently used. There’s also a hilarious amount of doves packed into five minutes of screen time as well as a Mexican stand-off with more guns than the finale of RESERVOIR DOGS. With all this complaining, there’s far more good to be seen (including an awesome boat chase) than bad. The running time might seem bloated upon the start of the movie, but I can safely say that things never got dull at any point.

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FACE/OFF is exactly what it set out to be. It’s a big, dumb action movie loaded with explosions, over-the-top acting, and a ridiculous story that’s a whole lot of silly fun. Sure, it gets mighty stupid throughout and packs in action movie clichés over and over again, but it’s also a total blast from beginning to end!

Grade: B

THE OTHER WOMAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Material, Sexual References and Language

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Directed by: Nick Cassavetes

Written by: Melissa Stack

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nicki Minaj, Nikola Coster-Waldau, Taylor Kinney, Olivia Culpo, Madison McKinley & Don Johnson

Guys get dragged into seeing chick flicks with their girlfriend. It’s a fact of life and one that should be learned early on. As I see it there are three different kinds of chick flicks, there are the authentically romantic sweep-you-off-your-feet award-worthy movies (these are rare), clichéd by-the-numbers overly-cheesy formula films (e.g. nearly everything involving the name Nicholas Sparks) or relatively harmless rom-coms that might be just as enjoyable for the guys as they are for the ladies. THE OTHER WOMAN is the like a hybrid combination of the second and third. It’s a predictable flick with a few halfway decent laughs. This is a harmless little date movie that will be forgotten in a matter of hours.

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Carly (Cameron Diaz) has fallen head over heels for the dashing Mark. The two hit it off and their relationship is chugging along at a fast speed. Mark seems like a nice guy any way you slice it, but Carly makes a shocking discovery when she pays a would-be surprise visit to her supposedly perfect boyfriend’s house. He’s married and Kate, his naïve wife, has put two and two together. Forming an unlikely friendship, Carly and Kate spy on Mark, all while plotting an intricate revenge to make this cheater’s life a living hell. This also enlists the help of another of Mark’s flings. It’s a story of three determined women getting revenge on the scumbag wronged them all.

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THE OTHER WOMAN has some issues in the focus of the plot. There are attempts to form a love interest between Carly and Phil (Kate’s brother), but these are regulated toward a few spots in the middle and a scene that goes by so quickly in the last third that if you blink, then you’ll likely miss it. The girl power idea is something to be admired, but it takes a very long time getting up to that point in the film. A good portion (nearly half) was centered around Carly and Kate bonding, before getting onto the second mistress (third woman) that has already been revealed in all the marketing.

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The acts of revenge contain a few funny moments (one of which was done far better in DUMB AND DUMBER), but there’s an identity crisis concerning a lengthy scene near the conclusion. Everything in the film is played with a bouncy “don’t take it seriously” vibe. There’s one sequence, before the grand finale, that tries to have dramatic weight to it and flops hard. It was a huge tonal shift that didn’t jive well with the light-hearted comedy that had been so prevalent for the entire film. This was the biggest fault in the movie and likely where most guys will be rolling their eyes (I certainly was), but then things get right back to the goofy nature that made things passable start with.

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As headliners, Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann are playing a combination of characters they’ve already played in the past. Diaz has a sense of sarcasm seen in her BAD TEACHER role, but also a normal human being seen in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Meanwhile, Leslie Mann is her character from KNOCKED UP and THIS IS 40 that just happened to wander into a different movie. This is Katie Upton’s first real headlining movie role (her stint in THREE STOOGES doesn’t count) and she does a decent enough job with the material handed to her. She plays the dunce (as Cameron Diaz refers to her as the Boobs) and got a few chuckles out of me with some of the silly lines she was handed.

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Of all people, Don Johnson also appears in a few scenes as Diaz’s character’s father which was a little strange to say the least, but he’s always a welcome screen presence. As for the three-timing asshole Mark, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is enjoyable as the ever so deserving victim. It’s Diaz and Mann who don’t seem to be really trying to get solid laughs. Mann saying the same things over and more anxiously did get a lot of laughs out of the auditorium I was in, but I’m not sold on that being a trait of true comedy.

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Too often, THE OTHER WOMAN relies on the overly predictable plot or dusty jokes that have been seen many times before. There are legitimate laughs here and there, but nothing special. This is a shame given the two main actresses having a knack for being very funny in certain roles. The film also has a severe pacing problem and was far too long for its own good. I could see 90 minutes with this premise working out fine, but 109 minutes is really pushing it. This is especially true when the film forgets supposedly important plot threads in favor of utterly pointless scenes of the three spurned women partying.

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As far as chick flicks that men will be forced to see with their significant others go, THE OTHER WOMAN isn’t bad. It’s tolerable and that’s about the biggest compliment I can give it. The lesser name cast members seemed to be trying a lot harder than the two well-known actresses phoning it in. There are funny scenes to be had, but they drown in a sea of tedium and clichés. It’s not terrible, but THE OTHER WOMAN will probably disappear from your memories in a couple of days time. So-so at best.

Grade: C

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