John Travolta is a copyist of great paintings forced to pull one dangerous last deception in “The Forger,” a soft-centered crime meller that proves notably short on suspense, and marred by sentimentality that feels distinctly secondhand. Nothing feels fresh here — not even Christopher Plummer hamming it up as a crusty-coot grandpa — and Philip Martin’s routinely polished direction only underscores the cliche-composting of Richard D’Ovidio’s script. Though Saban Films paid a reported $2.5 million for U.S. rights at Toronto, home-turf theatrical biz is likely to be flaccid, although cast names and genre elements will make this a viable if uninspired ancillary and minor theatrical item in most territories.
Though he’s set to finish his full sentence in just 10 months, Ray Cutter (Travolta) makes the seemingly inexplicable decision to have his underworld connections bribe a judge so he can get out immediately — the reason he’d rather not discuss being that he’s desperate to see his son Will (Tye Sheridan), who was recently diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. But this move puts him in heavy debt to known local bad guy Tommy Keegan (a tepid Anson Mount), who promptly demands he forge a Monet (the 1875 “Woman with Parasol”) so it can be swapped with the real one, hanging at Boston’s Museum of Modern Art, which will then be sold to an international drug-cartel chief/art aficionado.
As father tries to bond with the motherless teenage son he’s disappointed many times before, two police detectives (Abigail Spencer, Travis Aaron Wade) trail him, hoping he’ll lead them to finally nab Keegan — and perhaps a global drug kingpin in the bargain. Meanwhile, Will continues a rather hopeless course of chemotherapy, and Ray, inspired by the Make-a-Wish foundation, plays wish-granting “genie.” The 15-year-old’s bucket list includes meeting his long-abandoned addict mother (Jennifer Ehle), having sex before he dies, and — to Ray’s great reluctance — joining Dad in some of his intriguing illegal activities.
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Pic juggles equally uninspired crime drama and maudlin family drama for its first hour or so, then awkwardly shifts into a caper mode that isn’t cleverly penned or excitingly executed enough to lift the proceedings much. Though Martin has done good work on British TV, this first feature evinces no particular grasp of or enthusiasm toward either the Boston milieu or the genre elements.
The cast also seems to be going through the motions. Travolta looks great for 60 — maybe a little too good for a hard-luck type like Ray — but nonetheless seems pretty silly at moments like the one where we’re supposed to buy his beating up several burly young tattoo-parlor toughs. Sheridan, so good in “Mud,” “Joe” and “The Tree of Life,” is as listless here as the material. Other turns range from the unconvincing (Spencer) to the overripe (Plummer) to the routine (everyone else). Tech and design aspects are pro if undistinguished.