FACE/OFF (1997). Utterly preposterous, this zany action yarn starts with a far-fetched premise and then proceeds to recklessly build on its absurdities. But boy, does this baby deliver! With director John Woo going full-tilt, it's hard not to get caught up in the sheer exuberance of this adrenaline rush of a movie, which centers on two men who physically swap faces and in essence are forced to become the other person. The protagonists are FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) and crazed terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), sworn enemies even before Troy murdered Archer's young son. A shootout leaves Troy in a coma, and, through the miracle of modern science, Archer is able to temporarily swap faces with his nemesis in order to complete one last assignment. But after Troy unexpectedly awakens from his slumber, he decides to keep his new face in order to weave his web of terror from behind a federal badge. As Castor, Cage falls back on his eye-rolling hyperactivity when it's not really necessary, but he makes up for it when essaying the Archer role, locating a passivity we rarely see from this frequently wired actor. As for Travolta, he's in top form throughout, whether playing the ferociously dedicated Archer or the playfully sinister Troy. Troy's crack about Archer's (i.e. Travolta's) "ridiculous chin" alone makes this worth the rental price.
Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, a second audio track with Werb and Colleary, six deleted scenes, a dopey alternate ending, an hour-long making-of piece, and a half-hour feature titled John Woo: A Life In Pictures.
ROBOCOP (1987). The right director, script, cast and effects crew all came together to create what endures as a modern classic of sci-fi cinema. Excessively violent yet also refreshingly satirical, RoboCop stars Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, a cop in futuristic Detroit who almost meets a grisly end at the hands of a vicious street gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Using what little is left of Murphy, ambitious company man Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) one-ups his boss, devilish director Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), by creating an unstoppable police officer who's part human but mostly machine. But while RoboCop was supposed to be purged of all memories of his life as Alex Murphy, enough remains that he's haunted by memories of both his family and the creeps who shot him to pieces. Working from a sharp screenplay by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, director Paul Verhoeven offers an old-fashioned revenge flick with high-tech trappings, punctuating the action with comical commercials and news bulletins that if anything seem less absurd with each passing year. Yet what really makes the film soar is its stellar collection of villains: Any one of this pack -- Boddicker, Morton and Jones -- would provide enough nastiness for a single movie, but RoboCop graciously presents us with three memorably oily adversaries. An Oscar winner for Best Sound Effects Editing, this led to various theatrical and television spin-offs, including two dismal sequels.
Oddly, the outer packaging for the new 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition fails to mention that the two-disc DVD set includes both the original, R-rated theatrical release and the unrated, extended version. Extras include audio commentary by Verhoeven, Neumeier and executive producer Jon Davison, four deleted scenes, a new making-of featurette, two vintage making-of shorts, a look at the film's visual effects, and an entertaining piece on the movie's villains.
WE ARE MARSHALL (2006). In most respects, We Are Marshall, yet one more inspirational sports yarn torn from the headlines of history, traffics in the same kind of predictable underdog uplift championed in The Rookie, Miracle and oh-so-many-others. But real life provided a tragic twist, and that's what makes this otherwise rote film a cut above the norm. Set in 1970, the picture centers on what transpires in a sports-crazed town in West Virginia after nearly all the members of the Marshall University football team (as well as several coaches and fans) are killed in a place crash. After much hemming and hawing while trying to figure out the right thing to do, it's decided that the sports program will be resurrected from the ashes as a way of honoring the fallen players. Cue the entrance of Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughney), an outsider who arrives in town to serve as the new squad's head coach -- and also to help community members move on with their own lives. Except for Anthony Mackie as the team captain, the actors portraying the players are a nondescript lot, meaning the emphasis is shifted to the adult characters. And it's these seasoned actors (among them David Strathairn and Ian McShane) who best punch across the heavy burden that threatens to crush the spirit of this town. We Are Marshall is never as emotionally draining as this material requires, but it gives it the old college try and comes close to succeeding.
DVD extras include a half-hour look at legendary coaches as well as promos plugging Marshall University and the state of West Virginia.