Poor John Travolta. Since he’s always been kind of odd-looking for a movie star, he should have transitioned in his later years into playing character parts as none-too-bright deadbeats. Unfortunately, his public persona became so ridiculous over the last few decades that it’s absolutely impossible to take him seriously anymore. Even though ‘The Forger’ features a role old Travolta should be able to play, the whole thing falls apart because audiences have to look at his dumb face and remember the madness.
Sporting an absurd salt ‘n pepper block of Lego hair, an unconvincing Boston accent and a comical dot of a goatee, Travolta stars as Raymond Cutter, a good guy serving time in the joint who needs out to do One Last Job. (Yep, that highly original conceit.) In this case, he used to be an extraordinarily talented art forger and was content to serve his time for his crimes until he learns that his 15-year-old son (Tye Sheridan) has brain cancer.
Raymond gets his former boss Keegan (Anson Mount) to get him out so that he can help make the kid’s last few months as pleasurable as possible. That means cracking brews with the boy ‘n gramps (Christopher Plummer), finally introducing the kid to his drug addict mama (Jennifer Ehle, who actually delivers a sincere and pained performance that has no place in the rest of this silliness), and maybe even getting the teen laid.
The only catch is that Keegan wasn’t going to bribe a judge to get Raymond out for nothing. He wants Raymond to not only perfectly copy a Gauguin, but stage an elaborate heist. It should be too much for any one man to handle. However, this is John Travolta we’re talking about and he has the power of a father’s love on his side. Whatever…
There’s not a second of ‘The Forger’ that feels remotely credible. From the moment Travolta appears on screen with an absolutely ridiculous dot of chin hair on his doughy face, the audience will start snickering and won’t stop until the credits roll. It’s a shame, because this guy can be a pretty good actor given the right role (‘Blow Out’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, etc.). Unfortunately, it’s been so long since he got anything resembling the right role that his talent is easy to forget. Travolta is so lost in his la-la-land that he somehow thinks a movie in which he plays an art forger struggling to help his dying song is a remotely good idea. Watching him stare with a mixture of total confusion and concentration at an art book while copying the painting is a sight so insanely off the wall and hilarious that the movie is almost worth recommending for the “so bad it’s good” crowd. Almost, but not quite.
This is one of Travolta’s most lost and absurd performances in a career filled with them. Sadly, the movie surrounding him doesn’t match the same level of insanity necessary to turn this thing into a camp classic a la ‘Battlefield Earth’ or ‘Old Dogs’. No, the truth of the matter is that everything else is so thoroughly dull and mediocre that it’s hard to tell if anyone was even paying attention during production. The script by Richard D’Ovidio is a lazy collection of crime movie clichés and Robert McKee prescribed story beats that couldn’t be more predictable. Philip Martin’s direction is so flatly indistinct that it’s as if he didn’t even bother turning up to the set most days.
It’s also deeply sad to see Christopher Plummer reduced to an irritating happy pappy role so soon after winning an Oscar. Meanwhile, everyone else in the cast is barely present. Look closely and you can probably see them counting up their paychecks off camera. ‘The Forger’ is so tediously played and disinterestedly produced that it’s hard to imagine how anyone was willing to put up the money to send it into production. It must have been purely the result of Travolta wanting to try out his latest and silliest wig.
To be fair, those hysterical hair accoutrements are easily the highlights of the movie. Thankfully, you can appreciate them in the trailer or even a production still, so you don’t have to waste your time patiently waiting for this pathetic thriller to end.