By means of a radical face-lift seemingly in conscious homage to Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face (surgical lasers replacing scalpels), John Travolta and Nicolas Cage trade faces and places as an anti-terrorist federal agent and a mad bomber, respectively. And then, if you follow, vice versa. The actors look to be having a good deal of fun aping one another's mannerisms after the exchange, though the level of fun for the spectator will depend upon his level of tolerance for that cookie-cutter figure of the contemporary action film: the arch villain whose broad streak of sadism finds its most frequent release through a taunting, tormenting, ain't-life-a-blast sense of humor. In addition to the perfunctory plot justification of a ticking doomsday device somewhere in Los Angeles (but why was it set to go off so far in the future?), there is some science-fictional mumbo-jumbo to explain how Travolta's hairline can be shaved back, his "love handles" sculpted down, his voice altered (any violent activity, he is unavailingly warned, could dislodge the implanted vocal chip), and so on. There is nothing comparable, after the Cage character snaps out of a coma and forces the doctor to repeat the procedure, to explain about lowering the hairline, lengthening the hair, adding the love handles. The mind reels. And it goes right on reeling, never to regain its balance. Even over a solider foundation, the gear-grinding directorial technique of John Woo is liable to induce a touch of mal de mer. And this time the uncomfortable sensation is dragged out to almost two-and-a-half hours. With Joan Allen, Gina Gershon. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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