READY! READY FOR THE BIG RIDE BABY!
So, in the endless stream of reboots, ret-cons and remakes: it was only a matter of time before 1997’s classic actioner, Face/Off, found its way to the factory floor. Laugh all you wish, but it is ripe for a re-do, given the highly adaptable concept. Simplicity itself: two men swap faces and play each other’s characters as one hunts down their counterpart hero/villain.
The original movie from 1997 was produced by Michael Douglas, directed by John Woo and starred John Travolta and Nicolas Cage at the height of their stardom. But it had a long gestation period, despite the clarity of concept. A range of actors were considered for the pairing. It had to be right and marketable yet affordable. Same problem was faced by 1995’s Assassins (almost pitted Sean Connery against Mel Gibson; ended up with Stallone vs Banderas) and Gemini Man (only, would you believe it FINALLY released THIS year, with young and old versions of Will Smith, now that the tech is right).
So I thought I would take a look back, and also possibly forward at some other pairings that might have been and still could be, the face(s) of FACE/OFF! You are most welcome.
Michael Douglas v Harrison Ford
This makes sense. Or rather MADE sense, back in the 80s/90s. The two actors could still do it, too? They frequently found themselves in consideration for similar roles. Think ‘WASP’ types or middle aged every-men who have it all and hence have everything to lose.
Those template thrillers that were as much about a fear of losing one’s life-style as actual ‘life’. Mike had Fatal Attraction, Disclosure, Traffic. Harrison had Frantic, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games. Han Solo / Indiana Jones was of course an enviable combo and nobody can blame Douglas for aping that style a BIT in Romancing the Stone, though nobody plays an adventurer like Ford.
By the same token, Harrison was silly to try his Gordon Gekko impression at the start of Regarding Henry; but Douglas equally foolhardy in reprising that role for Money Never Sleeps, almost 25 years after his definitive turn in Wall Street. Both guys can convince as cops (Basic Instinct / Black Rain /Witness /Hollywood Homicide) and either man can switch fairly seamlessly from light to dark and back again (A Perfect Murder; What lies Beneath).
Mel Gibson v Bruce Willis
We were SUPPOSED to get this fight as a closing set piece in EXPENDABLES 3. But Willis dropped out last minute, something Sly Stallone hinted strongly was down to money? Face/Off is another missed opportunity. They were consistently sought for similar projects throughout their careers and there was a kind of interchangeable quality in consequence. Bruce could have been Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon; Mel could have been John McClane in Die Hard.
They both went off the rails a bit in their work choices at similar times, too. Mel sadly decided to focus ore on directing epic yet isolating masterpieces such as Passion of the Christ, thereby losing his outlet for action and verbal venting that the big blockbuster behemoths had given him. Bruce, bizarrely, keeps playing in B list straight to download fare. Any semblance of old fashioned movie star charm that he once exuded appears to have diminished if not disappeared altogether.
That said? Bringing them together, maybe in a Die Hard /Lethal Weapon crossover..could still be an ideal coupling. Nobody plays wise cracking, world weary, flawed yet ultimately decent anti-heroes quite like these guys.
Arnie v Sly
These two titans were natural rivals, given their similarly alliterative names and muscle bound, one liner laden monopoly on the action genre during the 1980s and 90s. Sly had two major series: Rambo and Rocky yet wavered when branching into comedy (Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot!; Oscar!). Arnie had just one franchise (Terminator) but was more adept at comedy (Twins; Kindergarten Cop) and making his own name into the marketable brand in countless one off actioners (Commando, Predator et al).
As one went up, the other would dip in fortunes / vice versa; it was an association of Newtonian proportion! Hence, in 1993, Last Action Hero was a rare flop for Arnold yet a renaissance for ‘Sly’ with Cliffhanger. 1996 was a bit ‘meh’ for both:ERASER and DAYLIGHT. Arnie then played Mr Freeze in Batman and Robin; Sly apparently denies having any interest in the role ‘Mr Cheese’, he said?
So: there is no doubt that theirs was a fierce rivalry and that some naughty tricks were involved, from both camps. But there was also a genuine respect that blossomed into firm friendship, via occasional business ventures such as Planet Hollywood. It’s truly touching to see these guys team up on shared causes, tweet, smile, laugh, joke and so on. The best of the Expendables movies (part 2) features some endearing interactions, too. At the same time, and even with Escape Plan having paired the two actors, there is a sense they never truly went head to head on film with any impact.
The only question in a Face/Off scenario would be who would play the baddie and who would be the good guy? And who might WIN?! Rambo: Last Blood is out this week..and Terminator:Dark Fate is out soon. Just imagine though..’THIS SUMMER: STALLONE. SCHWARZENEGGER. FACE/OFF’.
Tom Cruise v Hugh Grant
They both have big, floppy hair or sometimes, a shorter, more businesslike cut. Similarly emphatic hand gestures and vocal pitch. Both excel at sports (Hugh keeps it quiet but he’s a solid footballer/rugger player and a scratch golfer). No strangers to controversy (Divine Brown, Scientology). Occasional activism, too: Hugh is on a silly one man mission to undo Brexit, via tweets with lots of swear words. Tom has been vocal in his opposition to the use of avoidable drugs / psychiatry.
They reached peak power around the mid to late 90s (4 Weddings, Notting Hill; Mission:Impossible, Jerry Maguire). They have both played professionals who get mentored by Gene Hackman and thereby uncover conspiracies (The Firm, Extreme Measures). There was once a rumour of the two uniting as Batman villains (Scarecrow and Mad Hatter?) and there is currently talk of Hugh featuring in the next Mission:Impossible as Tom /Ethan Hunt’s nemesis.
Hugh was once thought of as potential James Bond (albeit by a pre click bait era press anxious to shift copies via speculative headline sin 1994) and one could make a case for Tom having played an American 007 of sorts on countless occasions, especially as the man is clearly an Anglophile who loves filming in London!
Gwyneth Paltrow v Nicole Kidman / Naomi Watts v Sienna Miller
Both dressed as She-Ra. Oh..sorry..where was I? 😉
Tom Hiddleston v Benedict Cumberbatch
Ok. That’s enough 🙂
I could of course go on..and on! But my point, really is this. If you MUST remake Face/Off? Then make it count. Unite two actors we should have seen together before? Or make it shockingly but brilliantly new. DON’T just hire Statham/The Rock or Rebel Wilson/James Corden and so on? If you are taking on a classic, then your reinvention must itself be classic. I hesitate to say this but you may even aim to..’subvert expectations’?
FACE/OFF is in some sort of pre-production and will be reviewed in a future post.
This is a picture of Jame Murphy. It’s like looking in a mirror..only..Not?!