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Monday December 4th 2023

Face/Off| 1997

Face/Off filming location: Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse, Stephen White Drive, San Pedro
Face/Off location: the shoot-out at the funeral chapel: Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse, Stephen White Drive, San Pedro | Photograph: wikimedia / Los Angeles

John Woo’s first big Hollywood success following his relocation from Hong Kong, was this brazenly ludicrous face-swap thriller. If you’re worried by plot holes (would a wife not notice little changes in her husband apart from his, erm, face? Is a bumping and grinding priest the best way to avoid drawing attention to yourself when planting a bomb in a public place?), you’re missing the point. It’s a broadly enjoyable exercise in cinematic style, with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage having huge fun impersonating each other’s mannerisms.

Face/Off film location: Los Angeles Convention Center, downtown Los Angeles
Face/Off location: gyrating priest Castor Troy plants the bomb: Los Angeles Convention Center, South Figueroa Street, downtown Los Angeles

The vast atrium, in which Castor Troy (Cage) in the guise of the least convincing priest in film history, plants a bomb to the accompanying strains of the Hallelujah Chorus, is the New Los Angeles Convention Center, 1202 South Figueroa Street between 11th Street and Venice Boulevard, Downtown Los Angeles. It’s the first of several locations the film shares with Starship Troopers (where it was used as the spaceport), and is also featured in Rush Hour and Demolition Man.

The home of earnest FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) and his wife Eve (Joan Allen) and sullen teen daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain), is 326 North Swarthmore Avenue, at West Friends Street, in the pleasant seafront community of Palisades Park just north of Santa Monica.

Castor and his geeky brother, Pollux  (Alessandro Nivola), are captured after a spectacular airplane-’copter confrontation, which leaves Castor somewhat incapacitated. ‘Southern California International Airport’ is Victorville Airport, more properly Southern California Logistics Airport, 18374 Phantom Street, Victorville, on I-15, northeast of LA in the Mojave Desert. Formerly George Air Force Base, you can see SCLA again in The Sum Of All Fears and Jarhead.

With Castor in a coma, it’s up to the FBI to discover the whereabouts of the ticking bomb from Pollux.

The cracking wheeze dreamed up by a small clandestine team is to remove Castor’s face surgically, transplant it temporarily onto an agent and let the fake brother chat to Pollux in his high-security prison.

OK, I concede that, written down, it does sound a tad unlikely.

The ‘Walsh Institute’, where Archer (naturally) is given the features of his deadly nemesis, is the Wilen House (now known as the Henman House), 33583 Mulholland Highway, at Little Sycamore Canyon Road, in the Santa Monica Mountains a few miles northwest of Malibu. A 1993 house designed by architect Edward Niles, it’s another of the locations used in Starship Troopers (as the home of Johnny Rico), and seen also in Fun With Dick And Jane and The Benchwarmers.

The brutal concrete interior of ‘Erewhon’ prison, to which Archer is spirited, is Eagle Rock Substation, 7888 North Figueroa Street, north of Eagle Rock itself, between downtown LA and Pasadena, which has also been seen in futuristic satire Demolition Man; in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and as the location of A Russian Affair, the film-within-a-film being premiered at the beginning of The Artist.

Unfortunately, while Archer is locked up, Troy awakens from his coma, figures out what’s happened, borrows Archer’s face and disposes of the only group of people aware of the deception.

Before the audience gets a chance to think WTF, Woo’s slick storytelling has Troy taunting the unfortunate Archer in prison and cutting a deal to get his brother released.

It’s up to the resourceful Archer to engineer an escape from the prison, only to discover it’s aboard an isolated rig in the middle of the sea. Actually, it’s only three miles off the coast of Carpinteria in southeastern Santa Barbara County. When not housing magnetic booted killers, functions as a private oil platform.

Managing to swim ashore, Archer contacts his wife, who works as a doctor at ‘County General Hospital’. Once again, you might recognise this from Starship Troopers – it’s the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, 1011 Baldwin Park Boulevard, in Baldwin Park about 15 miles east of Los Angeles, which was used as Johnny Rico’s school.

With Troy now running the FBI, Archer calls on one of Troy’s old associates, underworld dealer Hassler (Nick Cassavetes), to enlist his help in destroying Archer, who’s really Troy. You get the picture?

Face/Off film location: Pacific Electric Building, South Main Street, downtown Los Angeles
Face/Off location: the shoot-out to Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Pacific Electric Building, South Main Street, downtown Los Angeles

The spectacular shoot-out in Hassler’s apartment, audaciously choreographed to Somewhere Over The Rainbow, uses the loft of the old Pacific Electric Building, 610 South Main Street. The building has an impressive list of screen credentials: its third floor became police HQ in Se7en, the DA’s office in LA Confidential and the office of The Daily Bugle in Spider-Man.

You can clearly recognise its rooftop and semicircular windows on Google Maps’s Street View.

Troy and Archer confront each other at the funeral of FBI boss Lazarro, which is held in a chapel full of those rare cinematic birds attracted by the prospect of gunfire, known as Woo Doves. Don’t set your sights on holding your nuptials in this charmingly funky seafront venue. It’s not a church at all but the painstakingly renovated 1932 Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse, 3720 Stephen White Drive in San Pedro, south of the city, and built for the 1932 Olympic Games.

It’s in San Pedro Harbor that the climactic speedboat chase is staged.