John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Phenomenon (1996)

An inspirational drama starring Travolta as an everyman who somehow gains telekinetic powers. At this point, Travolta could do no wrong, and this interesting little movie was a big hit that summer.

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John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Michael (1996)

This amiable enough dramedy stars Travolta as an angel, with William Hurt and Andie MacDowell providing support. That’s about it, really.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Face/Off (1997)

This is a fantastic, over the top action movie with Travolta teaming up with Nicolas Cage in an improbable face-switching plot that pits two mortal enemies against one another. One of John Woo’s best, this is something I may have to examine in full at some point.

She’s So Lovely (1997)

Travolta has a good supporting role in this film from Nick Cassavettes, son of the late John Cassavettes, who wrote the script. Travolta plays the ex of Robin Wright-Penn who menaces her along with Sean Penn. It’s pretty damn good, from what I hear.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Mad City (1997)

This is a rather preachy, dumb movie about the place of the media in covering the news, and journalistic responsibility. Travolta stars alongside Dustin Hoffman, and the story revolving around a desperate man holding up a bank is predictable and obvious. Not a good movie.

Primary Colors (1998)

Better is this political comedy/drama based on the book written anonymously, and loosely based on Bill Clinton’s first run for president in 1992. It drew controversy when it was released… as one would expect from a movie rather blatantly about the sitting president.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

A Civil Action (1998)

Even better than that is this legal drama based on a true story (as is the novel the film is based on), that also features a great Robert Duvall performance. Travolta is good as well, and the movie is a solid drama.

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Travolta takes a small role in this ensemble WWII piece directed by Terrence Malick.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

The General’s Daughter (1999)

A decent mystery thriller, this features Travolta as he investigates the murder of a prominent general’s daughter. It’s okay, but in a few years, we’ll get a better version of this sort of film from Travolta.

Phase IV (2000): What the Hell Were You Thinking? 2:The Crappening

Of course, as he is wont to do, Travolta did make a major misstep.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Battlefield Earth (2000)

This gets its own section because… Well, good god, because it’s only one of the worst movies to come out in the last twelve years or so! We have a huge recap of it here, but I would remiss if I didn’t take a bit of time to kick it around a little.

Travolta is hilariously awful here, going over the top in a bad way (as opposed to the right way we spoke about earlier). It really says something that his lousy overacting is the best thing about the movie.

Phase V (2001-Present): Ups and Downs

Since Battlefield Earth, Travolta has done a mix of high profile and low profile pictures. Some good, some bad, one or two awful.

Lucky Numbers (2000)

This is Travolta’s first movie after the debacle of Battlefield Earth, so it’s understandable that it too flopped. It helps that this one sort of stunk as well.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Swordfish (2001)

Another villain role for Travolta, this is a mindless action movie from Joel Silver that’s short on thrills, intelligence, and entertainment, but on the upside, Halle Berry loses her top. That’s about the only memorable thing about the movie, apart from the dumb twist ending, which is not good.

Domestic Disturbance (2001)

A run-of-the-mill thriller not even worth mentioning.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Basic (2003)

After a brief cameo in the third Austin Powers movie, Travolta re-teamed with Samuel L. Jackson for this gem of a mystery thriller. Basic is a muddled, confusing Rashomon-type story about the killing of a jerky army drill instructor, that shockingly enough manages to be entertaining, even as the plot gets more and more frustratingly complex. Travolta is wonderfully hammy as the investigating officer, and there’s a twist at the end that’s so random and dumb that it would be a crime to reveal it. You must see this movie.

The Punisher (2004)

I already wrote about this masterpiece, so I’ll just tell you to read the earlier article. Because shameless plugs for previous works rock!

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Ladder 49 (2004)

A decent enough firefighting drama, though it’s hard for a movie to distinguish itself when Backdraft already set the bar thirteen years prior.

A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004)

An obscure drama that got decent reviews. That’s all I got, really.

Caption contributed by Ed

It would have been if the film hadn’t stunk!

Be Cool (2005)

Travolta goes back to the well with another Elmore Leonard adaptation, but this time it falls short, with not much in the way of laughs, and a rather dull story. The Rock has the best role in the movie, playing a gay bodyguard.

Lonely Hearts (2006)

A film about the “Lonely Hearts” murders that was already made into a pretty good movie a few decades ago. This didn’t get much of a release or reception.

Wild Hogs (2007)

A rather bad comedy with Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy, about a bunch of middle aged guys who become bikers. Not the worst thing Travolta has ever done, but then again, Battlefield Earth is still readily available, so that isn’t saying anything.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Hairspray (2007)

This is the best thing he’s done in years, taking on the role Divine played in the John Waters original. This is a light, fun movie that’s almost as good as the original.

Bolt (2008)

Travolta plays the lead character in this decent animated kids film.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (2009)

Another remake, this time of a pretty damn good ‘70s action movie starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw as cop and crook, respectively. Here, Travolta is the bad guy going up against Denzel Washington. It’s an okay, but unnecessary remake.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

Old Dogs (2009)

This is an atrocious comedy that both Travolta and Robin Williams should have stayed far away from. That is all.

John Travolta: Staying Employed (part 3 of 3)

From Paris with Love (2010)

Travolta’s most recent theatrical release is a troublesome one for me. On the one hand, it’s a fun action comedy with an enthusiastically over the top performance from Travolta as a super spy-type. On the downside, most of the movie revolves around his partner, and said partner’s girlfriend who turns out to be a suicide bomber, leading to a downer ending. It really pisses me off when a movie goes from being fun to serious without earning it, which this movie does. A big disappointment.

Later this year, Travolta will star in the new Oliver Stone movie Savages. Hopefully, it’ll turn out good.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: John Travolta: Staying Employed

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  • Monoceros4

    Ah, the memories.

    John Travolta can’t play bad guys. I must assert that. The sad thing is that Travolta thinks he’s wonderful at it and, poor guy, he does try so hard, with all his twitchy mannerisms and vocal gymnastics and ridiculous hair styles. You want to acknowledge the effort but…damn. Travolta’s villainous performances are almost as reliably ruinous as Nicolas Cage’s.

    • Monterey Jack

      TOTALLY agreed that Travolta is EMBARASSING playing villains. It worked a grand total of ONE time, in Face/Off, mainly because Travolta was chanelling Nicolas Cage at his most rigorously batshit crazy (and Cage got to underplay for a change as Travolta). His other bad guy roles remind me of a twelve year old on the playground, reenacting the R-rated action movie he watched on HBO over the weekend while his parents were out to his awed friends as he repeats all of the “bad-ass” swearing in a reedy, pre-pubescent voice. The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3 remake was a particularly egregious example, with Travolta hilariously LUNGING his head forward after every other tiresomely profane line.

  • Sillstaw

    Kind of wish this was more detailed. I like the Franchise Evolution articles, but this feels a little too rushed.

    • sunrise089

      I strongly agree. While I still felt this was worth reading it also struck me as one of the “less honest” Agony Booth articles. That’s because, IMHO, the basic thesis statement of “Every performer has some items on their résumé that aren’t exactly worth remembering, but our boy Johnny has had not one, but two huge droughts in his career” isn’t really supported by the article. First, there are simply too many entries that the author hasn’t seen. I can’t take the claim that a movie is good or bad very seriously if the reviewer hasn’t seen it. Second, where’s the second drought? I agree there was a big quality drop-off prior to Pulp Fiction, but was Battlefield Earth alone enough to qualify as a second “huge drought?” When I look over the body of work I basically see a life of projects by a solid but not great actor who likes to work, and hence has a wide range of quality. Considering that, I think trying to force a narrative is pushing it when you have to keep making exceptions like “this film during the bad period is actually pretty good, and this one during the good period is pretty bad, and I’ve just not seen these two…”

      Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed parts of the article, but I’d much rather read something on an actor or crew-member who’s a lot less prolific if it means a more thorough examination. Or, the great and thorough Franchise Evolution articles 😉

  • Cristiona

    Ah, good old A Civil Action. I quite enjoyed it when I saw it, and thought I was the only person who remembered it existed after Erin Brokovich came out.

    • Ed

      It helps to have a memory like a steel bear trap…and Wikipedia.

  • I actually didn’t mind the the ending to From Paris With Love so much, I thought it was a pretty nice twist, the twist from Swordfish on the other hand was profoundly stupid(though the film was pretty good otherwise) the alternate ending included on the DVD is much better. Old Dogs and Wild Hogs were guilty pleasures, and I actually liked Be Cool better then Get Shorty. Domestic Disturbance and Two Of A Kind were both decent. Battlefield Earth I found enjoyable in a so-bad-its-good kind of way, at the very least you gotta admit it’s more watchable then those goddamn Twilight films. The Experts, Chains Of Gold and Lucky Numbers I always felt were highly underrated and underappreciated. To be brutally honest I never did like Grease or Saturday Night Fever though, but that’s mainly cause musicals just don’t do much for me.

    Oh and Face/Off is my all time favorite action film(yes I like it even more then Die Hard) possibly my favorite film ever.