Incognito Offers a Fascinating Look at the Art World

Jason Patric, Irene Jacob, Ian Richardson, Ian Holm, Rod Steiger. Directed by John Badham. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (letterbox). Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. 108 minutes. 1997. Warner Bros. Home Video 14538. Rated R. $24.95.

Incognito went incognito at the box office—despite its name cast and some swanky locations, it never received a theatrical release. Who knows why? Perhaps this suspense thriller was concealed from audiences because its thrills are more cerebral than physical—"cerebral" can be a tough sell.

The film revolves around a New York painter, Harry Donovan (Jason Patric), whose big show has just been canceled. Donovan then "flies under the radar," as one London gallery owner notes, forging paintings by Rembrandt and other masters and selling them for big money to rich, eager auction houses. He's brilliant at duplicating the chiaroscuro that Rembrandt perfected, and he has just taken a job to re-create a lesser-known Rembrandt portrait for $500,000.

Harry's dad, played with Method-y emotion by Rod Steiger, reprimands him: Harry can't do his own work because he doesn't "have eyes". The Prado will never display one of his paintings if he doesn't quit selling out and ignoring his own God-given talents.

Harry retreats to Amsterdam to study Rembrandt's life and art, and there meets a young student named Marieke (French actress Irene Jacob, best known for her collaboration with Krzysztof Kieslowski in the films Red and The Double Life of Veronique). They have a tryst in Paris, but Harry has too much on his mind to fall in love. He soon discovers that Marieke isn't who she seems and that he's been set up for a murder he didn't commit. He's forced to flee, pursued by bad guys desperate to retrieve the valuable Rembrandt forgery.

Incognito is most fascinating when it focuses on the art world, its lavish restoration processes, and Harry's slavish attention to the details of old-world painting techniques. But director John Badham, better known for routine suspense thrillers like War Games and Blue Thunder, lets the script drift away from him in the second half. Part of the problem might be that, although Jason Patric certainly has the right intensity for the role, he's always been a chilly, enigmatic actor. It's tough to accept him as a romantic lead when he seems so uncomfortable as Harry. Fortunately, and especially in the first hour, he's given lots of screen time in which to strut his stuff quietly and alone.

Despite its faults, Incognito has a lot going for it. It looks terrific, with a smart, decisive style and gorgeous locations. The DVD has interactive interviews with Steiger, Jacob, and director Badham, featurettes about art restoration and the re-creation of the "Rembrandt" used in the film, and a special music track of John Ottman's romantic, moody score.