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THE TOURIST, 2010
Frank Taylor (Depp) travels to Venice to recover from a recent break-up, though he soon finds himself engaged by the beautiful and mysterious Elise (Jolie) -- who happens to be an Interpol agent with a dangerous connection to a fugitive criminal.
Release Date: 10 December 2010 (USA)
It is disheartening on a startlingly profound level to see a group of talented actors and filmmakers coming together at the height of their powers and producing something of as such soul-killing drudgery as "The Tourist."
Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) is being followed by just about every law enforcement agency in the world, lead by the profoundly obsessive Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany). She's being followed because she is the only person who knows what Alexander Pierce looks like, a thief on the run with $2.3 billion in ill-gotten gains which several people want back, including the gangster (Steven Berkoff) he stole it from. In order to throw them all of the sent, Elise picks a stranger (Johnny Depp) at random and pretends he is Alexander in a new identity, a plan which might work if she weren't slowly falling in love with him.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmark's first film after the success of his German language masterpiece "The Lives of Others," "The Tourist" often seems like it was made by a different person entirely, someone who had seen good movies and was trying to imitate them without any idea how they work. The film twists violently between light-hearted romance and exciting adventure romp without any real idea how to do either, with many of the large scenes (such as an escape from Russian ruffians by speedboat) coming off as spectacularly dull and common place.
Donnersmark seems much more comfortable with the just taking in the scenic views of Vienna and its landmarks which fill up so much of "The Tourist's" running time than he does with developing tension what is theoretically caper film, even if an extremely light one. Part of the problem seems to be that no one can quite seem to decide what tone it is they're going for as "The Tourist" lurches from light comedy to villains strangling their subordinates. It feels like they're trying to do an updated "Charade" without ever having seen a successful example of what they're attempting.
To be fair, a lot of that and the films problems in general lie squarely in the script, with Donnersmark often trying to do the best he can with terrible material. You would think from such sure and steady hands as dual Oscar winners Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") and Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") an upper crust crime caper would be child's play but the "The Tourist" is just a wreck. Long scenes devoted to developing Frank and Elise's relationship, the lynch-pin of all the action in the second of half of the film, mostly devolve into the two actors just staring at each other and occasionally speaking without actually saying anything, because to ask obvious questions would destroy a lot of the tension they're trying to build, a big structural failing of itself.
Tasked with finding someone who looks somewhat like Alexander, Elise settles on Frank, a torpid math teacher from Wisconsin who is intentionally neither interested nor interesting. She flirts with him all the way to Venice then picks him up again shortly afterwards. Despite the fact that a startlingly beautiful and wealthy woman has spent an entire train ride talking with out of the blue, before inviting him to go to dinner with her and then stay in her hotel room, Frank never seems to even think to ask 'where is all of this coming from.' At first this seems like a logical lapse, as it might end things before they get interesting, but after a while it becomes ridiculous. Much of the rest of the film makes similar narrative sense, and is nowhere near exciting enough to forgive such problems.
The actors do what they can with, and Jolie and Depp are probably the only two to come out of the disaster unscathed, but if nothing else "The Tourist" proves that even star power has its limits. It's particularly true of Depp who is capable of many things as an actor, but realistically playing a clueless Joe Schmoe isn't one of them. Jolie is better off, as the distant exotic femme fatale is a type that works well for her, though being tasked with playing a type instead of a character works about as well as it sounds.
Despite what we'd like to believe, the past is often not prologue. Strong artists with definite voices and a history of solid work are just as capable of making a startlingly bad film as anyone else. Sometimes things just go wrong despite all the best intentions in the world. If nothing else then, "The Tourist" is worth its existence as a warning sign to all other potential filmmakers in the future: don't let this happen to you.