Tourist, The (United States/France, 2010)

December 11, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Tourist, The Poster

Given the screenplay for The Tourist, Alfred Hitchcock would have hired Cary Grant (or Jimmy Stewart) and Grace Kelly. Then he would have applied his particular brand of magic - the one that allowed him to sell the improbable - and an engaging romance/comedy/thriller likely would have been born. Unfortunately, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (the German-born filmmaker behind the brilliant The Lives of Others) lacks Hitchcock's deftness with this genre, and Grant, Stewart, and Kelly are all dead. The best that can be said of The Tourist is that it consistently looks glorious (credit at least in part goes to veteran cinematographer John Seale). Venice is postcard perfect (you can't see garbage floating around in the canals). But the shifting tones sound a sour note and the preposterous storyline calls attention to itself too often. Hitchcock could sell some of the silliest plots; based on the evidence at hand, von Donnersmarck's grasp is less certain.

Action in The Tourist gets underway with a "chance" meeting on a Paris-to-Venice train between Frank (Johnny Depp), a schoolteacher from Wisconsin, and Elise (Angelina Jolie), a mysterious English rose. Her purpose for the trip is a clandestine rendezvous with her lover that he has planned with all the gyrations of a Rube Goldberg project. Frank, meanwhile, is a tourist and his encounter with Elise leaves him smitten. Fortunately for him, she invites him to share her palatial hotel room. Unfortunately for him, she is being pursued by two Scotland Yard inspectors (Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton) and a mob boss (Steven Berkoff) and, once Frank is in the picture, some of the unwanted attention previously devoted to Elise is shifted in his direction. The price for a kiss is a rooftop flight attempted barefoot and while in pajamas. It turns out that Elise's lover owes the mobster several billion dollars and she has set up Frank as the fall guy. Or has she? Is she a femme fatale or an innocent victim?

Angelina Jolie is effectively cast as Elise. She has the look and bearing of a '40s screen siren and she understands that the movie doesn't make a lot of sense, but it doesn't bother her. She's elegant and gorgeous, and Venice provides the perfect backdrop for those qualities. Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is a bad choice for Frank. There's nothing Cary Grant-ish about him. His copious locks and beard have been trimmed, but he still appears uncomfortably more like Joaquin Phoenix in I'm Still Here than a romantic lead. His serious, low-key approach is at odds with the script's cartoonish contortions. The supporting cast is impressive, with Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton not being given much to do. Bettany spends half his screen time hiding inside a parked van performing surveillance. Steven Berkoff gets to snarl a few ripe lines of dialogue as the heavy. One gets the sense that The Tourist might have been a lot more fun had Cap'n Jack, Salt, and James Bond shown up instead of the characters penned by Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes (based on a French movie by Jerome Salle).

The mystery/thriller elements of The Tourist are predictably unpredictable, which is to say that the "twists" are so clich├ęd that they're not remotely surprising. The plot's ceaseless machinations leave little room for character development, and the dialogue is toothless. The romance is disappointingly sterile. Depp and Jolie are both regarded as being among the sexiest people on the planet, but their scenes don't sizzle. There's no spark, and certainly no flame. The comedy is centered around making fun of American tourists - something that's mildly amusing the first time but quickly grows stale.

As preposterous wannabe Hitchcockian thrillers go, this one is adequate. After a slow start, things move along at a clip sufficient to keep most viewers interested, if not completely engaged. My level of disappointment has more to do with wasted potential than with what's on screen. The behind-the-scenes talent, from the director and screenwriters to the cinematographer, is top-notch. The protagonists are played by two of the most appealing actors of this generation. The supporting cast draws from a deep pool of accomplished British thespians. Yet, despite all it has going for it, The Tourist never escapes from the web of mediocrity that ensnares it. As pointless diversions go, it has some things going for it, but not enough for a wholehearted recommendation. Those who want Hitchcock are better with the real thing - pale substitutes like this one merely italicize how special the legendary director was.

Tourist, The (United States/France, 2010)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2010-12-10
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1