The Forger is short on imagination and transparent in its contrivance. Richard D’Ovidio’s script is so overloaded with clichés of the crime thriller and the weepy family drama there’s no opportunity to dig beneath any of the blandness. None of the genre elements are interesting on their own, and all appear even lazier when smashed together. We get an ex-con trying to make good with one last job, underworld maneuvering, a parallel police investigation, and a family fractured by misdeeds, death, drug addiction, and illness. It’s all as phony as the cast’s Boston accents.
The worst accent of all is John Travolta’s as Ray Cutter, a thief and art forger who calls on sleazy associate Keegan (Anson Mount) to get him released from prison 10 months early. Cutter’s desperate to spend time with son Will (Tye Sheridan), who’s afflicted with inoperable cancer, and wants to mend their relationship while there’s still time. In exchange for springing him from the clink, Keegan demands Cutter forge Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol” and swap the copy with the real thing that’s on display in a Boston museum. Keegan will use the Monet to pay off an international drug dealer, who also happens to be an art buff, and Cutter will be free and clear. Of course it’s never that easy, and though The Forger attempts melodramatic turns and caper twists they’re all telegraphed and director Philip Martin polishes away the rough edges.
The plot begs from some inciting incidents that deepen the drama, but the film coasts on a superficial string of events. With the strained relationship between Ray and Will reduced to contemplative stares and sighs, the father’s quest to earn forgiveness and admiration is reduced to a hokey mission to grant his son three wishes – introduce him to his absent, addict mother (Jennifer Ehle), get him laid, and finally, give him a role in the forgery job. Ehle manages to feel genuine amid the artifice, as does Christopher Plummer as Ray’s dad and genial patriarch to the conning clan, though neither is given enough screen time to elevate the slushy proceedings.
Silly sentimentality eventually gives way to the equally ineffective forgery high jinks, which begin with an easy roundup of necessary supplies and a few wrist flicks from Travolta as he effortlessly replicates Monet’s masterwork. Not to give too much away, but the big plan at the museum involves flipping a breaker to turn off security cameras and distracting a security guard with a spilled soda while stealing his keys. DEA Agent Paisley (Abigail Spencer), who’s been watching Cutter to get to Keegan, actually runs away from the activity when the alarm goes off. This is on par with her team’s inept actions throughout the movie, which involve sitting back and watching Cutter one minute, chasing him the next, and also indulging him in tactical conversation.
Motivations exist only to get to the next manufactured scene, from the inexplicable actions (or non-actions) of the cops, to Ray’s unexplained skills that extend beyond reproducing classic works of art. His hands are also adept at punching; so much so that a few seemingly weak blows landed off-screen to one of Keegan’s goons make the crony look like he’s been in a prize fight. Fisticuffs with a gaggle of tattoo shop ruffians are shown in extreme long shot, only drawing more attention to the obvious fight choreography.
Travolta doesn’t make a believable forger or fighter here, looking more like a tired actor than weary father/criminal whose main contribution to the character was growing a comically weird soul patch. He’s the unremarkable center of a film that trades potential pulp for strained sweetness, the tepid convolution leaving no room for authentic sentiment or suspense. And certainly no surprises.