Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Incognito (1997)

Directed by John Badham. Written by Jordan Katz. Photography, Denis Crossan. Editing, Frank Morriss. Production design, Jamie Leonard. Music, John Ottman. Cast: Jason Patric (Harry Donovan), Irene Jacob (Prof. Marieke van den Broeck), Thoma Lockyer (Alastair), Ian Richardson (Turley), Rod Steiger (Milton Donovan), Maja Ottensen (nude model), Ian Holm, et al. 108 minutes.

I ran into this film on cable. Or rather, I collided with it. It bruised my taste and my logic. I stuck it out, but it never improved. Jason Patric is the painter Harry Donovan. Patric is nice looking. Harry is surly and a creature of few words, generally unpleasant. That's because--I guess--he wants to rise to fame and money. What he does however, in practical terms, is to forge paintings. And can he forge!!! He is said to be the very best of his ilk--and he knows it.

The trick is that he creates paintings by far less-known artist, which renders the possibility of the frauds being discovered low. Very low. Perhaps nil, since we never hear of his having been caught ever.

What is clear is that Harry has invariably stayed clear of forging the work of great, familiar artists. In fact he says early on "Only Rembrandt can paint Rembrandt. "

I am a bit confused as to whether he copies paintings or makes new ones but in the unmistakable style of A, C or Y. My guess is the latter. No matter. Such forgeries do not seem to have attracted the inspection and close analyses by specialists.

It sounds like a good scam except that, if you ponder on it, you realize that while it makes more sense than making (up) a Van Dyke, a Degas or a Van Gogh, there us still a possibility, however remote, for connoisseurs of A, C or Y to become suspicious.

OK. Let's suspend disbelief for the sake of fun. But the, where on earth is that fun?

The very start of the movie, before we met Harry, is a flash-forward of news on TV--inexplicably in black and white. It shows Harry in a field being chased by a goodly part of the British police Force; burning a rolled item (a painting no doubt) on a fire conveniently found in the great outdoors; doing this as the law is tackling him, bodily, and as a TV newsman with winged feet also catches up with the running man.

The other half of the intro has Ian Holm---as a kind of conduit to forgers and their employers--demonstrating to a small group what immense talent Harry has for fakes.

The plot is so murky that I am not sure I got its details right. Morose Harry is pissed off at the entire world. The dealers-gallery owners and middlemen (middle people, that is) are exploiting him. Back at his pad, in London, he sulks. Multiply this by 100 when he gets a letter from a gallery, per which they cannot have an exhibition of his (genuine, personal) works for some technical reason that I forget. Partly because a gorgeous model (Maja Ottensen) with a perfect figure, arrives, disrobes and poses, only to be dismissed (with pay) by Harry.

So, when fraud sponsors and bankrollers offer Harry a huge amount to do a "newly found Rembrandt," Harry says yes this time.

Matters get exponentially muddled and silly (but not funny-silly). They lead Harry from colorful London to picture-postcard Paris to Holland, perhaps to Germany too, but I won't take an oath on this. In France, in an outdoor cafe by the colorful Seine river, he meets cute with Marieke (Irene Jacob)--in an improbability of 9. 9 on a scale of 10. She seems to know something about painting. In fact she is the author (I think) of the art book Harry is perusing (just the pictures), al fresco--but neither nor we learn this until subsequent film sequences.

When Harry goes to the Louvre to look at Rembrandts in the process of being restored, in spite of his claiming he is a professor of art, he is refused access. But he runs--you guessed it?--into Marieke who tells him she's a student, and gets him in.

Having done a bit of spying, he is back on the quays of the Seine. He runs into Marieke sitting at a cafe with two French (presumably) art specialists. His shoulder is carrying a tree-size chip, so he proceeds to insult the two men (on matters of art) leaves. Marieke joins him (or he joins her). She is impressed no end Harry's moody outspokenness and original thinking. Before you can say Toulouse Lautrec, they're kissing passionately. Before you can say "How about it, kid?" they're rushing to her hotel. But she's lost her room key. She wakes up the aged night-porter, but the couple is in such a hurry that they copulate on a sofa in the foyer as the old fellow looks on and thinks, I am sure "Wait 'til I tell Jacques, Jules and Jim about this ! I bet they won't believe me. " I bet they won't, too, since I can't believe it myself.

Morning arrives in Marieke's room. He is still in bed. She is up. Her nudity is not unappealing, but she's way behind the model seen earlier in London. I can't remember if it is at this point that her full name is disclosed and her true profession. She's got to be Dutch, but she has no accent. I suspect her English was dubbed. Perhaps not. I couldn't care less.

The fact that at age 30 (and looking younger than that) Marieke van den Broeck is a specialist's specialist on Rembrandt, an ace, a wonder, raises more eyebrows. But then, how can you raise eyebrows that are already permanently raised?

The couple separate. We lose sight of the lady and concentrate on the forger. All sorts of technicalities ensue as he gets his very special needs: special paint and chemicals, an aged canvas and so on. This part, if done in semi-documentary fashion less sketchy, frantic and bamboozling, would have held some interest. But you have to take it all on hurried faith.

When the finished product gets back to the UK. more absurd complications ensue, including two killings. Surprise! Marieke reappears to verify the authenticity of the "Rembrandt. " Contrary to expectations, while it looks genuine, something in her tells her this is not the real thing.

I'll spare you and myself the dolor of relating further developments, all outrageously absurd. Harry tries to flee to France, with Marieke attached to him with handcuffs. (He also forges a passport in a jiffy, thanks to his Swiss Army knife). The former bedmates have now an antagonistic releationship. It will change to love, as anyone can foretell.

Remember Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps"? . This part of the movie is like a forgery of Hitch's great movie. And a desecration. There are no winks to the audience nor any surprises. There is no humor, wit, slyness or suspense that might involve you. The photography however is very good.

Later comes a ridiculous trial whose only saving grace is the snooty prosecutor played with gusto by long-nosed Ian Richardson. When Harry demonstrates his talent in court by redoing his painting, there's some excitement, but the process, with its McDonald's speed and the use of magically available special ingredients, is less than believable. It is mentioned that this had happened in the case of the real-life Van Meegeren, that notorious, legendary ace forger of Vermeers. But it is still unconvincing.

Improbabilities, impossibilities, contradictions come in bucketfuls. Remove nearly all of the film's plethora of subplots, stick to a handful and you might get a pretty good thriller.

I forgot to mention that early on and at some other times as well there appears on the screen Rod Steiger. Aging and in ill health, he plays Harry's father. They love each other. Harry tells him he admires him above all else. Steiger was a painter too. He wishes Harry would do his own painting rather than his illegal trade. And so on. But the old man is poorly defined. His function in the picture is hazy. Brit-born director John Badham has some OK movies in his repertory: Just before "Incognito" he had made "Nick of Time" (1995), too over-the-top but fun. Other films (e. g. "Drop Zone, "" The Hard Way,"" Blue Thunder,"" Bird on a Wire,"" Stakeout. "" Short Circuit") are not memorable, except for two most enjoyable, entertaining titles, "Saturday Night Fever"and " WarGames. "

Jason Patric has no large filmography (yet?) but I do remember his doing very well in at least two very good features: "Rush" and "Geronimo: An American Legend. " In my review of the latter I wrote : "Setting aside other considerations, Patric is a solid reason for seeing this film. " "Incognito" adds no bonus points to the player, but it is not his fault.

The French actress Irene Jacob's debut was in a nice, short supporting role in Louis Malle's moving "Au Revoir, les Enfants" (1987). Fame came to her with her starring in two films by thinking man's auteur, the Polish moralist writer-director Krszystof Kieslowski (1941-1996): "The Double Life of Veronique" (France-Poland,1991) and the last last movie he ever made,"Three Colors: Red" (France,1994). Most of Jacob's other films were of minor interest. Had only Kieslowski not died so early!

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel