Face/Off - Rated: HOT HOT HOT!

Face/ Off is tremendously good fun! The premise - that two opposites exchange identities - is a theme that has been explored before in film and literature. The Prisoner of Zenda, The Prince and the Pauper, The Dark Mirror, Moon Over Parador, Dave and many others. But in this film the two enemies actually trade faces - surgically - and you get to see the operation! It is both squirmingly delicious, and utterly ludicrous. But for once, a ludicrous plot doesn't get in the way of the fun.

In fact, the way the director - master of Hong Kong action flicks John Woo - handles the complicated set-up reminds me of some of the great directors of the golden years of Hollywood - Howard Hawks, for one. Hawks was always more interested in the relationships between the characters in his movies, and in pursuing his perennial themes of professionalism and camaraderie, than he was in pure plot and narrative. So he'd set up a scene in 5 minutes or even less time, and then move on to explore his obsessions.

Woo does the same thing here. After a few minutes we can put behind us the whole crazy idea of the two face-swapping operations, and all the nutty assumptions that go along with that. Then we can move on to enjoying the action, the inter-action between the fabulous pairing of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, and the mayhem and madness of the stunts and special effects. And - even more stunningly - we can check out where Woo places his cameras to capture all these explosions and stunts on film.

He does this magnificently, and beautifully. Woo is a genre-director at the very peak of his form. It is hard to imagine how he will top this film, which, to me, seems the very apotheosis of the action-pic form. Woo loves breaking glass and flying sparks, and they look ravishing in this film. The two lead actors relish the opportunity to imitate each other and they send each other up rotten. Marvel as Nic Cage goes all moon-eyed and soft as Travolta! Gasp in awe as Travolta jerks and wriggles and goes all dark and inscrutable as Cage! Watch as both leap all over the place avoiding each others' gunfire. Woo has chosen two superbly physical actors here (remember Travolta was a dancer) and it they work together beautifully.

Woo is in fact re-exploring themes he has explored in previous films - The Killer in particular. He loves the idea of equals-but-opposites confronting each other. In The Killer, the professional killer and the cop go head-to-head against each other and do in fact "face off" with guns pointed directly at each other. There is a final chase in speed boats and a final confrontation in a chapel (with doves, no less). Having seen that film, my appetite for Face/Off was only heightened. I was not disappointed.

In fact, on leaving the cinema, I felt elated. This is a real movie. See it.