If you don’t know anything about Face/Off, I implore you to shut your life down and immediately watch it without so much as looking up the premise. I’m not kidding! Close this email, claim you’re sick, go home and pay money to rent Face/Off. Spare yourself any spoilers and get! on! board! this! train!
Assuming you have done that, we can now talk freely about the fact that this is a movie wherein John Travolta and Nic Cage switch faces through advanced technology that can take one’s Face clean Off and put it on someone else’s! This is the perfect way to steal someone’s identity in this universe if, as the film establishes, the height difference is negligible. I hope I do not need to point out that this premise is absolutely batshit buckwild. Just completely bananaspants locotown. Cuckoo shitballs. Few, if any, movie premises defy logic and descriptive words like this one.
Can this film even be remade? I’m extremely concerned. It’s particularly troubling that the two people already attached to write and produce the project worked previously on 22 Jump Street, which makes me worry that they’re trying to make a Face/Off that is ironic or tongue-in-cheek. What an incorrect approach! The seriousness with which original Face/Off was made is what makes it a transcendent experience. It is a perfectly-made version of a film that never should have existed. It is a beautiful disaster that is an affront to logic and taste and while the world is better for its existence, you still cannot unequivocally say it’s good. Or can you? To watch this film is to experience one’s own beliefs dissolving. Do you know what makes a movie good? Do you know how far disbelief can be suspended? You might have thought you had the answers before viewing Face/Off, but the film shakes you to your core and leaves you questioning everything you thought was real… much like if you had to convince your loved ones that your worst enemy had taken your face, and you, wearing the face of a wanted criminal, are who you truly are.
SO WHICH ACTORS ARE UP TO THIS CHALLENGE? And which directors could commit as beautifully as John Woo? People have already started speculating, but some of them seem to be joking and I take this deadly seriously, as serious as a bomb being planted in the convention center by a domestic terrorist disguised as a lecherous priest. Let us ponder together.
Harmony Korine’s Face/Off
When wondering what auteur could match John Woo’s blend of elegance and violence, my mind first went to Harmony Korine based solely on the “Everytime” sequence from Spring Breakers.
This naturally led me to James Franco as Castor Troy, which could be excellent. Franco has the same strange intensity in his choices and general disconnect from reality as Nicholas Cage. Usually he’s balanced by someone chiller and more grounded, like a Seth Rogan or Dave Franco, but the brilliance of Face/Off is picking two over-actors to vie for screentime in a upstaging battle royale. My first choice is Shia Leboeuf. At 5’9, he’s 2 inches shorter than James Franco, but that’s actually the same height difference as Travolta and Cage, so we're honoring the original nicely. The height difference is negligible.
I’m not saying it’s the best artistic choice, but you could also cast James Franco and Tommy Wiseau against each other and I would be there on opening night and see it five more times in the theater during its run no matter what. So. I think we should at least consider this possibility.
I don’t WANT to support James Franco’s casting in anything, though, because he’s a certified creep, so I’m willing to entertain the idea of Shia vs. Jason Mantzoukas. I love imagining the completely different approaches those two would show up with.
Sticking in the Korineverse but staying more grounded, Korine’s Beach Bum star Matthew McConaughey’s decision to be in Serenity shows that he’ll commit to bizarre premises. I’m feeling him more for Sean Archer, though the beauty of the film is that he’ll ultimately play both parts and I think he could do Castor Troy just as well. Who to pair him with, then? Woody Harrelson is a solid character actor who would make big choices, and their speaking voices are similar enough to spark a connection for me. I’d also propose Owen Wilson, though I fear he would make it too comedic - but the idea of Matthew McConaughey impersonating Owen Wilson and Owen Wilson attempting to do the reverse is tantalizing.
Who else is off-kilter enough to take on this project? Jake Gyllenhaal has been leaning into camp of late, and I can see him committing to Archer if not Troy. I got a bit stuck in contemplating his opponent, until I hit upon Jason Lee, who I thought would preserve the original film’s balance of Someone from a Film Legacy Family vs. a Scientologist but he apparently quit the church in 2016. Regardless, Lee is a dark horse, sure, but I stand by the idea. Nicholas Cage named his child Kal-El after Superman’s Kryptonian name and Jason Lee named his child Pilot Inspektor, so the chaotic energy needed for Castor Troy is there.
On the topic of Scientologists, it’s tempting to throw Tom Cruise into the mix to imagine him bringing the unhinged mania we all know he’s capable of, though I think he’d pass on the role as he’s been trying to seem like less of an IRL unhinged maniac for decades now. Nevertheless, I want to ponder pairing him with Christian Bale, who famously based his portrayal of serial killer Patrick Bateman on Cruise. This is a fascinating train of thought until I consider that the actors, their characters having had their Faces taken Off, have to play each other. Bale can do a convincing Cruise, but where would Cruise take it? Would Bale bring the violent anger from his infamous on-set meltdown, leading Cruise to try to top that? I’m picturing the intensity of his smile and the stare of his cold dead eyes and the thought honestly chills me. I’m scrapping the idea as too unsettling, especially because if anyone were to take this concept to a dark place it would be Harmony Korine. No thank you!!
The Wachowskis’ Face/Off
Pivoting to a different vision, I propose the Wachowskis, who helmed Jupiter Ascending, a film which rivals Face/Off in its campy commitment to the ridiculous. Their work on Cloud Atlas, in which actors of a bunch of different ethnicities play reincarnated versions of each other, also makes me they they could tackle the essence of Face/Off.
Eddie Redmayne brought some Cage-esque screaming work to his role in Jupiter, and I like contemplating this sort of willowy, fragile mold for the leads. I’d like to see him act off otherworldly weirdo Ezra Miller, at which point I would be fine with the Wachowskis just setting the film in space or the future. I’d completely forgotten when I came up with this idea that these two actually have starred together in the Fantastic Beasts movies, which led me to the below video. I’m not sure if this evidence of their chemistry makes me more or less on board with their pairing here. Would their dynamic make the film more compelling or less believable? Is it wrong that I want Ezra to lean into his queerness in the role when that would compel Eddie Redmayne, who would have to imitate him, to do the same? Is Eddie Redmayne even straight? Am I just still mad at him about The Danish Girl? Is the level of disorientation I feel here a clue that I’m on the right track??
Staying in this realm of not-so-beefy leading men but moving on from this Eddie/Ezra brain puzzle, I would love to see a screen test of Robert Pattinson and Matthew Gray Gubler, both of whom I believe would show up to set with takes on the characters that no one was prepared for.
Not A-list enough? Too straight? Okay, I got you. Now that they’ve both gone Full Weirdo, I’ve been dying for R. Pattz to reunite with his Twilight costar Kristen Stewart, and this could actually be the perfect project. Kristen as Castor would particularly bring some fascinating implications to the scene in which Castor, in Archer’s body, fucks Archer’s wife better than her real husband ever did.
Paul Feig’s Face/Off
I know, I know. I said before that you can’t go comedic with it because the comedy lies in its unwavering commitment to its premise. But A Simple Favor, while comedic, was also completely batshit. This movie needs to tread a delicate balance of fun but not comedic, bad but taking itself so seriously that it’s good and also worse for it. A Simple Favor was similarly confusing in tone and overall execution. Feig originally shot a Bollywood-inspired flash mob scene for the ending! Of his darkly comedic thriller that involved incest and murder! Bring THAT energy to this project!
Plus he’s great at providing roles for women, so I think he could genderbend the premise well. If we must suffer through endless reboots and remakes, I’m all for adding diversity to improve upon the original. It’s tricky here, though. There simply aren’t enough women and POC in the industry known for bizarre, unsettling behavior because only white men get to behave atrociously with impunity.
My first pick for Troy is Natasha Lyonne, no question. She’s the perfect mix of unpredictable, charismatic, and eccentric. Imagine her in prison (easy) as Archer-in-Troy’s body, screaming with bluffing confidence, “I’M CASTOR TROY!” with all the unbalanced, wild-eyed frenzy of Nadia in Russian Doll unravelling after multiple deaths.
Finding her opposite is so difficult, though! Linda Cardellini is the first choice that comes to mind with Feig on board, but I don’t think her choices are big enough; Kate McKinnon would do good work and match Lyonne’s energy but bring it too far into comedy. A very tempting option is Lindsay Lohan, who has enough parallels with Lyonne to make it truly interesting: two famous redheads with husky voices who survived both child stardom and adolescent drug problems. And LiLo’s film choices, whether she knows it or not, have been campy for years now, so she wouldn’t be a bad fit at all. But...you know...good luck getting her to show up to set.
Elizabeth Moss would be a worthy opponent, and I promise I’m not just hung up on the Scientology thing. (The religion just tends to attract oddballs. What a weird coincidence!) She has a studied intensity that would make her an interesting Archer, and she’s subtle enough and has the skills to imitate Lyonne in a way that could be unsettling in the best way. But she’s not very fun. Tatiana Maslany is a true chameleon, but would she show up to set and make nonsensical choices and discoveries with the character? I’m not sure.
What about Natasha Lyonne vs. Helena Bonham Carter? Two kooky broads with wild hair, and HBC has proven herself extremely adept at levels upon levels of mimicry.
Just some wild card final thoughts
Paul Giamatti vs. Stanley Tucci
Charlize Theron vs. Anne Hathaway
Kathy Bates vs. Kathleen Turner
Billy Crystal vs. Nathan Lane
Alison Brie vs. Lizzie Caplan
J.K. Simmons vs. Sacha Baron Cohen
John C. Reilly vs. Wilford Brimley
Elizabeth Banks vs. John Mulaney
Kevin Spacey vs. Johnny Depp but they both just fall into a turbine in the plane scene in the beginning and die
John Travolta vs. Nic Cage again but this time they don’t get a script and have to improvise based on how much they remember of their original dialogue
Nic Cage vs. Nick Kroll and they have to improvise an entirely new plot with no direction at all other than they have to switch faces at some point
A hologram of Chris Farley vs. a hologram of Philip Seymour Hoffman
Michael Ian Black as Castor Troy’s unsettling brother Pollux, regardless of who else is cast