What is happening!
If you check out “The Forger,” you might well find yourself saying that time and again, as the entertainingly terrible performances keep piling up while the plot dares you not to chuckle at the audacity of it all.
Here we go. John Travolta, who has been one of my favorites and then one of my least favorites and then one of my favorites and so on and so on over the years, looks a little waxy in the face and sports a wacky haircut and a distracting and tiny little bit of chin-beard as Ray Cutter, a Boston thug who’s a world-class forger of fine art.
No, for real. Ray’s a career bad guy who’s still capable of beating the holy life out of three punks half his age, and he’s been hardened by years in the joint, but he’s capable of duplicating the works of the Masters with such precision, even the world’s foremost experts have difficulty distinguishing the original from Ray’s copycat version.
(Sidebar: Travolta murders his Boston accent. Most of the time, he sounds like an aging version of Tony Manero from “Saturday Night Fever,” until he takes a word like “park” and goes WAY over the top, like a “Saturday Night Live” caricature.)
With just 10 months left to serve on his sentence, Cutter strikes a bargain with the neighborhood crime boss named Keegan (Anson Mount), who set up Cutter in the first place. In exchange for early release, Cutter will owe Keegan big time.
Why the desperate need to get out? Cutter’s teenage son Will (Tye Sheridan) is in the advanced stages of terminal cancer. This is Cutter’s last chance to bond with the boy.
For the last four years, Cutter’s father Joseph (Christopher Plummer) has been looking after Will. Joseph is a tough old coot, prone to swilling beer and cussing up a storm, sure signs of a colorful character.
Sometimes Christopher Plummer can be magnificent. Other times, he raises the bar for over-the-top scene thievery. You can guess which type of performance we’re getting here.
“The Forger” bounces back and forth between overdone family melodrama and less-than-compelling crime caper. Ray becomes Will’s personal Make-A-Wish service, granting the lad three requests. One wish involves a visit to Will’s MIA mother, a drug addict who cleans herself up for an entirely unconvincing mini-reunion. A second wish entails a visit to a hooker.
The third wish was yours truly hoping we’d keep things moving so I could warn you not to see “The Forger.”
As a hapless DEA agent and an equally inept Boston Police detective (Abigail Spencer and Travis Aaron Wade, respectively) trail Ray in hopes of catching bigger fish, Keegan makes a deal with Ray. If Ray perfectly forges Monet’s “Woman With a Parasol” and swaps it out for the real thing at Boston’s Museum of Modern Art, Keegan will give the authentic Monet to the powerful head of an international drug cartel, who also happens to love fine art. That way, Keegan will be out of hot water with the drug kingpin, Cutter will be out of hot water with Keegan, and “The Forger” will run out of steam.
Even with a terminally ill teenage son character, a pill-popping absentee mother and a crotchety grandpa character, “The Forger” is consistently ineffective as a sentimental tearjerker — and an even bigger failure as a heist movie.