John Woo Says ‘Face/Off’ Was Intended As A Comedy

Woo says the Nic Cage-John Travolta film was a ‘Mad Magazine’ goof come to life
John Woo Says ‘Face/Off’ Was Intended As A Comedy

Pigeonholing a movie like John Woo’s Face/Off into a single genre is a nearly impossible task, unless that genre is “awesome.” IMDb places three labels on it — action, crime and sci-fi — and somehow gets it wrong three times. Or at least not completely right. In a recent conversation with Vulture, Woo sets the record straight once and for all. “I started to make it like a comedy,” he explained. 

Funny, we assumed that was the intention all along.

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How could a movie that’s mainly about John Travolta and Nicolas Cage daring each other to go over-the-top be anything but a comedy? With spastic facial tics as the setups and massive explosions as the punchlines, Face/Off has several laugh-out-loud moments, pairing two of a generation’s hammiest actors and basically telling them to ditch the seatbelts and punch the accelerator. “The two actors worked together so well,” Woo told Vulture. “They spent about two or three weeks rehearsing with each other. They were imitating each other, walking and talking — even the laughs, the crying, everything. They made it a lot of fun.”

The comedy part didn’t come until later. Originally, the movie was conceived as a sci-fi adventure set 200 years in the future. But Woo took out most of the special effects and brought the setting back to the near-present day. That’s when it became, in his words, a “comedy-like” movie. “I’m a big fan of MAD magazine,” he confessed. “The characters in my movies sometimes feel like characters from there. The whole thing is so ridiculous. People who can change their faces — it’s so unreal.”

Like we said — ridiculous! The comedic elements of Face/Off are saluted in Cage’s most recent comedy, the rollicking Unbearable Weight of MassiveTalent. Pedro Pascal’s superfan Javi has constructed an entire room in tribute to Cage, packed with memorabilia from his entire filmography. The crowning jewel of the collection is a life-sized Cage mannequin from Face/Off, armed with two pistols and a grimace nearly as ridiculous as the movie it references. 

Cage: Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.
Javi: Just look at the guns.
Cage: If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you pay for this disturbing statue?
Javi: About 6,000.
Cage: I’ll give you 20,000 for it. 

Critics were never fooled about Face/Off’s comedy bona fides. Newsweek admired its mix of “kitsch, sadism, sentiment and comedy.” Salon called it “frequently hilarious.” And Rolling Stone was wowed as “scenes of high-voltage action vie with wild hilarity.”

So take your genre labels and stick ‘em somewhere else, IMDb. We — and Woo — recognized what the uproarious Face/Off was all along. 

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