(In theaters, May 2000) Frustrating because it is, at the same time, so bad and so good. The script is one of the sorriest excuse for an “action” film I’ve seen in a blockbuster for a long, long time. Say what you want about Armageddon, at least it had pacing on its side. Not so with Mission: Impossible 2: If the first fifteen minutes are pretty enjoyable, the following hour drags on like molasses, with a complete lack of any action. That dreadful hour is further drawn-out by nauseatingly trite dialogue, obvious “surprises” and bland scripting. But, forty-five minutes before the end, Ethan Hunt finally gets to act like the James-Bond clone he has so obviously become, and only then does Mission: Impossible 2 become a thrill ride. That’s when characters stop speaking and start shooting, all sumptuously directed by John Woo. Slow-Motion bullet ballet, a wonderful motorcycle chase worth the price of admission in itself and a superb hand-combat sequence complete the film. A shame you have to slog through so much… emptiness in order to get to it. Tom Cruise is irreproachable -as is Anthony Hopkins’ cameo- but the rest of the actors get short thrift and Thandie Newton’s character is atrociously written. So much good stuff, so much bad stuff… and Hollywood suddenly asks itself why we think its summer blockbusters suck.
(In theaters, June 1997) The best action movies always have an extra layer of… depth to them. Die Hard, Aliens, Terminator 2, even The Rock all had a strong cast of character to give meaning to the action so the bullets weren’t flying around for nothing. Face/Off succeeds so well in this regard that it would have been interesting even without the superior actions sequences that pepper the script. The story begins where most other action movies end: Bad Psycho Terrorist (Nicolas Cage) is arrested by Good Straight Policeman (John Travolta) But soon, cop has terrorist’s face and vice-versa and we’re set for a fascinating exploration of the mind/body duality (and a few explosions on the side.) Both leads are just great, as is director Woo. Despite many impossibilities, the script works very well and even offers a few moments of genuine emotion. Even better, the female characters are strong, and not limited to the helpless hostage role. Face/Off holds together better than most of the recent action movies in memory: satisfying, solid entertainment.
(Second viewing, On VHS, May 2000) This holds up well three years later, mostly because director John Woo knew where to build on a better-than-average action script to produce a film closer to his own themes. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta bring considerable credence to a tale that might otherwise have seemed utterly preposterous. The directing is clean, stylish and exciting and the action set-pieces don’t disappoint. Definitely worth a second viewing.