The stakes shouldn’t feel as low as they do in “The Forger.” An art theft thriller about stealing one of the most famous paintings by Claude Monet should have been a suspenseful peek into the criminal art forger’s craft, a Boston underworld character study built around accomplished stars such as John Travolta in the title role, Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and Jennifer Ehle in support.
But it has none of the above, “craft” being the most telling omission.
No matter how well-preserved he seems here, Travolta feels out of his depth as a forger who buys his way out of prison by promising a favor to the thug (Anson Mount) who put him there. Travolta is years past being able to pull off the hard-man-of-the-yard routine, punching his way out of encounters with his past.
Keegan (Mount) wants “The Forger,” Ray Cutter, to knock off “La Promenade: Woman with Parasol,” by Monet, to settle a debt. Ray’s old man (Christopher Plummer) responds to that with a torrent of profanity. That’s his response to everything. Cute.
The reason Ray had to get out early? A cancer-stricken son (Sheridan, of “Mud” and “Joe”). The cop on his case? Agent Paisley (Abigail Spencer).
Ray has to study Monet, buy an aged canvas and fake the paints and painting style of Claude Monet, figure out the heist, deal with the old man’s grousing, Keegan’s threats and the kid’s “make a wish” wishes — like wanting to meet his mother, who turns out to be a junky played by Ehle (“Zero Dark 30,” “Pride & Prejudice”).
Ray? His wish is to “move to Tahiti and live like Gauguin.”
Not much we see here puts him on that path or makes us invest in his dilemma. Travolta summons up moments of Vinnie Barbarino in searching for a Boston accent, few others in the cast try even that hard.
The kid’s “wishes” aren’t touching, the heist is blase, the painting mimicry is given such short shrift that it involves little more than Travolta tilting his head and squinting. We always knew his laziness was going to catch up with him.
And the finale is the least believable bit of all.
The screenwriter of “The Call” was behind this, so the lack of suspense probably isn’t his doing. The director is from British TV, which is usually a better training ground for features than this artless time-killer suggests.
Among that promising cast, only Plummer and Ehle give us anything more than paint-by-numbers turns. Travolta? He’s a pale imitation of himself, as ill-fitted to the role as that odd prison soul patch he sports under Ray’s carefully streaked mop of hair.
Cast: John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, Abigail Spencer, Jennifer Ehle, Tye Sheridan, Anson Mount
Credits: Directed by Philip Martin, written by Richard D’Ovidio. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:35