The Tourist really wants to be the perfect Saturday night date movie. It is the kind of film that could be described entirely in clichéd one-liners, but that’s okay because it embraces this and wants to be entertaining nonetheless. Full of intrigue, romance, espionage and glamour, what it is lacking is nothing on the surface.
The problem is that there is nothing more to the film than its exterior. It is stylish, chic and not difficult to watch, but there really isn’t any more substance to it than an unsigned “Wish You Were Here” postcard of Venice.
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose film The Lives of Others won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Tourist should be in good hands. It was written by Donnersmarck, as well as two other very capable writers: Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park).
These are people that know how to make a good movie. Add stars like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and something delicious should be boiling at the surface, instead it felt more like a bowl of microwaved condensed soup.
A loose remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer directed by Jérôme Salle, the film is a giant nod to the great romantic crime capers of the 50s and 60s, most obviously Charade and To Catch a Thief. It is about a tourist, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin who meets a striking, mysterious woman called Elise, played by Angelina Jolie.
Little does he know that by conversing with Elise he is becoming part of a plot to distract the police and other villainous men from her true love, Alexander Pearce. Pearce is a notorious embezzler who stole two billion dollars from British mobsters. He is not necessarily a nice guy, but who can stop true love? Elise lures Frank into her seductive trap and by allowing him a single kiss, creates a mistaken identity that fuels the rest of the film.
While there is nothing special about this plot, if everything else worked in the film there wouldn’t really be anything wrong with it. Sure, there are lots of plot holes and the story itself is a little ridiculous, but Alfred Hitchcock made it perfectly clear that a film like this does not need a staggering original story to be a whole lot of fun. What Hitchcock also consistently proved is that charisma and star power go a long way in a Hollywood feature.
The Tourist has the star power, but did not get the memo about charisma. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp play their romantic rendezvous completely flat and while they are capable of making love to the camera in this film, I never got the impression that they wanted to make love to one another.
At one point, Depp contemplates storming into Jolie’s room in an attempt to sweep her off her feet, but opts instead to put on his pajamas and fall asleep on the couch. It was one of the few times where I felt just going to bed was probably the more interesting choice.
Depp and Jolie are two of the biggest names in Hollywood and their star power is without question going to carry the film. Unfortunately, neither seem fully engaged in making this film what it could be. Jolie easily fits the part. She has such beauty that it seems as though she was born with high key lighting.
She plays Elise, as she should, with an iciness and gracefulness that evokes a cheetah moving slowly until it catches its prey. She has played this role before and does it better than probably anyone else in Hollywood, but there are other layers to her character that are referenced but do not seem examined.
Depp, honestly just seems bored. His role was obviously written with Cary Grant in mind, and Depp’s bad boy recklessness doesn’t blend well with a tuxedo and a smoldering smile. He is charming, of course, but few people would call him a gentleman. Also, I have never seen a math teacher that looked even remotely like Johnny Depp.
The film’s greatest strength is its beauty. Opening in Paris and playing out in Venice, it is impossible to not enjoy the luxurious lifestyle that Elise resides in. When they arrive at their suite in Venice, she opens her closest to find it full of gems, jewels, and clothing that even Grace Kelly would have been proud of.
The score cheesily sparkles every time a moment of glamour occurs, whether it is dining at a four-star restaurant overlooking the moon-kissed waters of Venice or whenever Jolie enters a room. This is film that embraces decadence the way few films to today and in this regard, it is certainly enjoyable to watch.
The film shows all the loveliness and beauty of its surroundings and its stars, but never goes deeper than the surface. The Tourist is a very fitting title for this film. It’s easy to go on vacation and see the Eiffel tower, but it is a little trickier to become a Parisian. The film does not accomplish the later, but I am surprised that the Eiffel tower never graced the screen.
While it lovingly mimics many of the greats from previous generations, it misses everything that made those films so much fun and inevitably concludes feeling lackluster and trite. Maybe I would have been more forgiving if it had been filmed in Technicolor.