Christian Bale as Travis McGee? What the Fudge?

Christian Bale in promo shot

Okay, just when you thought that the worst casting decision in the world was Marky Mark as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film, Hollywood chucks one out that is breathtakingly bad. Christian Bale as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Really??

What the fudge people.

After this initial sense of outrage, disbelief and shock, it turns out that the movie is in a sort of “development hell.” The movie was first touted as a vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio as long ago as 2010/11 and resurfaced again in 2013. Scheduling problems took the Wolf Of Wall Street star off the picture and the last word was that Bale was being considered for the role of “salvage consultant” beach bum McGee.

Rosamund Pike, (Gone Girl) is now attached to the project and while that may be good news, the fact that Bale’s name is still associated with the film is not. It was the news of Pike’s connection to the movie that pointed out Bales as being the new McGee. One thing to cling to, however, is that Fox do not really seem to know what they are doing with this property.

From the very start, it looks like the studios have never read any of the superb John D. MacDonald’s series, first publicity blurbs talk of a “World War II” film. Trav was a Korean War vet, although later in the series this became a sort of “open to interpretation” as to which war he had participated. The time settings of the latter stories made the Vietnam War more likely than the big WWII.

At least twice Travis McGee and his best friend Meyer (an economist) have been portrayed on film. Australian actor Rod Taylor on the big screen and laconic actor Sam Elliott on television have both played the beach bum with a penchant for women “who are broken birds.” While both actors did a good job, Taylor seemed a better fit for the role in terms of physicality.

For the audio versions of the stories, TV’s old Mike Hammer, and later Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin voiced McGee and became, for many, the perfect embodiment of MacDonald’s hero.

In the books, the author described McGee as a big man with sandy hair and “spit colored eyes.” The idea of Christian Bale, with his “tortured” air and intensity, playing the McGee is almost sacrilege. Perhaps in terms of size and delivery, Dick Van Dyke’s son Barry (Diagnosis Murder) comes closest to fitting McGee than any other actor out there.

Unfortunately with names like Bale and, now, Rosamund Pike being touted for the big screen version of The Deep Blue Goodbye, Van Dyke will never get a look in. The other downside is that at 63, Barry is far too long in the tooth to play the Florida bachelor. There may be other younger actors who would be a better fit than Bale, but in terms of box office he will be the stronger choice, as was DiCaprio initially.

Why the Batman actor is being considered for the role is mystifying. His latest film, where he depicts a tortured and intense Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, proves that he cannot escape his usual style of performance even when portraying a biblical figure. At least on that film, he did not come unglued and scream at a technician on set.

It is a shame that the Fox project, which had the talented Dennis Lehane writing the script, cannot come up with a better choice for the role of Travis. Even Leonard DiCaprio, the studio’s initial casting, was not a good fit. Too young and not physical enough. No arguments with the casting of Rosamund Pike at all at this point but, please Fox, pick someone else to play McGee.

Sadly, it seems that Hollywood will most probably not get this one right. This is not too dissimilar to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, played for laughs by Dean Martin, where perfect casting for a more serious version of the American James Bond proved elusive. No one actor really fit the bill and it looks like Travis McGee may well suffer the same celluloid casting fate.

McGee had a quality that kept the reader coming back and wanting him to find the perfect mate. By the last book, The Lonely Silver Rain, Trav had a daughter and Meyer was delighted to see his friend become more mature. Sadly it was the last McGee adventure to be written. MacDonald, a prolific writer, was taken back by the muses and at least one reader cried tears of loss after learning that “McGee” was dead.

The author died in 1986 and was the same creative genius who wrote Cape Fear, made twice into a film, as well as The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, and a slew of other novels and short story collections on top of some works of non fiction.

The news of Christian Bale being considered for the role of McGee does tend to make one wail in disbelief and scream out “What the Fudge?” However, it is nice to think that this evergreen character, who has been around since the 1960s, is interesting enough to still be considered a good property for the big screen. All one can ask is that a better candidate than Bale be cast at the end of the day.

And of course there is still the issue of Meyer. Knowing Hollywood, they will probably make the best friend a skinny woman thus changing the entire purpose of the economist. This project still seems to be stuck in developmental hell for the time being, despite Pike’s being “cast.” Hopefully scheduling conflicts will negate the American Hustle actor becoming the latest casting mistake in Tinseltown.