Movie Article

'Basic' Instinct

Why John Travolta needs to take a break. He's one of America's best-loved stars, but his latest movies have Jeff Jensen thinking it's time revive a strategy that worked for him bigtime in the early '90s

John Travolta | 'BASIC' INSTINCTS Travolta should go with his own rather than his agents'
'BASIC' INSTINCTS Travolta should go with his own rather than his agents'

Why John Travolta needs to take a break

The time has come for intervention. Drastic measures must be taken. A clear and present danger to American moviegoers has grown to an unacceptable level and something must be done about it.

I am, of course, referring to the career of John Travolta.

After making the most of his ''Pulp Fiction'' comeback with fine turns in respectable films (''Get Shorty,'' ''Face/Off,'' ''Primary Colors,'' ''A Civil Action''), Travolta has been on a precipitous slide (''The General's Daughter,'' ''Battlefield Earth,'' ''Lucky Numbers''). Travolta seems to be plagued with a crippling case of bad taste, and audiences are taking notice. Check out the subpar opening weekends for his last three films: ''Swordfish'' ($18 million), ''Domestic Disturbance'' ($14 million), and now ''Basic,'' which generated a mere $12 million despite Travolta's much ballyhooed weight loss.

The ''Basic'' truth is, Travolta needs more than a couple months at the fat farm -- he needs a healthy stay in career rehab.

First, he needs to fire his agent, or whoever is telling him to take empty-headed adrenaline-juiced star vehicles. And if it's the case that said rep knows these projects are wrong for his client, but is deathly afraid of saying something, well, tough. It's time to put those big fat commissions on the line and do the right thing and quit. Consider yourself a martyr to a holy cause.

Second, it's time for John to embrace the fact that he's getting old. He'll always be a disco dancing stud, no matter what age he is. But he's 48, soon to be 49. Next year, 50. He's never going to be Tony Manero again, and he's never going to beat Vin Diesel at that upstart's own game. I cringed watching his recent ''Basic''-pushing appearance on ''Oprah,'' in which he shamelessly promoted his alleged six-pack abs (which frankly looked more like a four-pack to me). I don't begrudge the man for wanting to be healthy. But in exploiting it for the sake of advancing a movie career, Travolta made exercise as vain as a regimen of Botox injections.

It's a hard thing, letting the Hero roles go, especially since those are the movies we most love to see and the movies that pay the best. But I gotta think Travolta doesn't need the money. Like Harrison Ford, who would be wise to follow the same advice, it would be nice to see Travolta tackle middle-aged character-actor roles. I think he'd be more interesting, and in the right project, he'd probably score the only Hollywood prize that has so far eluded him: an Oscar. (His next project, a drama called ''Ladder 49,'' sounds like a small step in the right direction: He plays a firefighter captain who's a father figure to a younger firefighter played by Joaquin Phoenix.)

But before he does any of that, I think John Travolta needs to go away for a while. His recent failures have exhausted much of the goodwill he earned with ''Pulp Fiction'' comeback. If you think about it, time and distance have done Travolta a lot of good. After becoming a star with ''Saturday Night Fever'' and ''Grease,'' his career imploded from a series of bombs (''Staying Alive,'' ''Perfect,'' ''Two of a Kind''). So he went away. Flew under the radar with some indies and a family franchise (''Look Who's Talking''), until finally, a great part came his way and we rediscovered a great talent.

So go away, John. Enjoy a long vacation with your family. And then come back to -- older, wiser, more interesting. Don't worry: You're too beloved to be forgetten. We just need some time to rediscover you -- once again.

Originally posted Apr 03, 2003