The Tourist (2010) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language
Running time: 103 min.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Stephen Berkoff, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenplay: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes
Just as Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Kung Fu Panda) reportedly claimed that she only agreed to star in cinematic confectionery called The Tourist because she could do a shoot in Venice, so too should potential viewers only choose to watch her film to see two of the world's most desirable actors flirting with each other surrounded by some of the world's most beautiful locales.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who made a critical splash with his very tense Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, creates this armchair tourist concoction, based on a little seen French film from 2005 called Anthony Zimmer, utilizing without abandon the ample eye candy he has, which is really all he has, framing everything to lull audiences into a sense of picturesque escapism. So, if you're someone who easily fawns over the sights of Paris and Venice, can't get enough of a retro 1960s caper film vibe (a la Charade) over a Hitchcock-light screenplay (a la To Catch a Thief), or just adore looking at Depp at his most dashing or Jolie her most ravishing, you're exactly the audience the makers of this film are going for.
Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, a glamorous, elegant, and enigmatic British woman whom we first meet in a cafe in Paris, receiving a letter from her lover, Alexander Pearce, telling her to make a rendezvous on a train to Italy where she should look for a passenger with his approximate build. The reason: Pearce is wanted by the Intrerpol, headed by Inspector Acheson of Scotland Yard (Bettany, The Da Vinci Code), for not paying hundreds of millions of pounds in taxes, and he's not keen on getting caught. So, she sizes up the male passengers and settles on a tourist from America, a math teacher named Frank Tupelo (Depp, Alice in Wonderland), whom she uses to keep the police, off the scent of the man she is trying to protect. But now this good man is put into harm's way when some Russian mobsters catch wind, also confusing Frank for the man they're after.
It's not easy to sympathize, at least initially, with Elise. Not only is she leading on some poor schmuck obviously stricken with her beauty, but she's also willing to let the guy take the fall for the lover who is only out to protect his wealth, and wealth he garnered through embezzlement and tax evasion. But that's where the casting shows it's double edge; in a film with a romantic setting and starring Jolie and Depp, she can't possibly do something that would hurt him, and he can't be, no matter how much the script asserts it, an average joe. Nope, we never quite buy that Jolie's heartless and that Depp is down to earth, so we're always looking for the angles for both of them, which undermines the film's attempt as a crime mystery.
So, we see beautiful people in the forefront, and beautiful scenery in the background, and every once in a while, this thing called a plot rears its ugly head and makes our beautiful actors' eyes crinkle and mouths frown, and we don't want that do we? These others are bad -- they keep getting in the way of love! And of course, they are in love, because you don't put actors of this caliber together and have them dress up in formal attire without at least sharing some deep, penetrating glances and the occasional swoon-inducing smooch.
The film plays like a soufflé, so light and fluffy throughout, that when the plot forces a climax between our would-be couple and the British gangster (Berkoff, Riders) and his Russian henchmen, we never quite feel the tension or menace that von Donnersmarck is clearly going for. Rooftop foot chases and speeding boats look pretty, but where is the nail-biting suspense?
It's a case where the power of the stars outshines all else, until they are all you can see. It's Depp, a great character actor who labors mightily in vain to seem normal when need be, so we're waiting for him to gain the upper hand because, well, he's clearly not going to play an average Joe in any film. And Jolie isn't going to die -- why would you cast someone of her price range if she's playing a character that disposable? This is a story that's never going to take a chance that might muck up the intent of pleasing the crowd. Just like any tourist trip , you only get to see the best parts of any city you go to, and all you have to show for the experience is pretty pictures and romanticized ideas.
©2011 Vince Leo