Movie Review: The Tourist
The Charlotte Observer
I don’t expect you to believe the following two sentences, but I have to try to warn you.
1) Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, benchmarks for sexual arousal in other movies, have zero emotional and physical chemistry in “The Tourist.”
2) Though the three credited screenwriters have won Academy Awards – all for thrillers, which this is supposed to be – the least effective aspect of the picture is the plot, which contains more inanities than a drunken frat boy’s midnight ramblings.
The Critic’s Code of Honor forbids me from explaining in detail why the storytelling is so inept, because I’d have to spoil the silly surprises. So I’ll say only this: You can interpret the climax two ways, and both will probably infuriate you.
Either the previous behavior of the main characters then makes no sense whatever, or the “brilliant” plot by which one person manipulated everyone else is based entirely on accidents and coincidences, two things insupportable in thrillers.
This wasn’t entirely a surprise. I interviewed Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) this summer, and he mentioned he’d come onto the picture after Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) had written their versions. I got the impression from the interview that the narrative was clumsy both before and after Fellowes’ contributions, and that unseen hands had later touched it.
“The Tourist” is the illegitimate child of “North by Northwest” and “The Third Man,” without the wit of the former or the suavity of the latter.
From “Northwest” we get the innocent man (Depp) who’s mistakenly pursued by killers and intrigued by an elegant woman whose motives he can’t fathom (Jolie). As in “Northwest,” government agents are watching her, hoping she’ll lead them to the bad guy: a banker who stole two billion dollars from a British mobster (Steven Berkoff) and will be reuniting with Jolie’s character soon.
From “The Third Man,” we get exotic locations where people speak languages our hero can’t understand, plus a not-too-bright American who refuses to get out of danger because he’s fallen in love with another man’s soignée European lady friend.
Depp’s Frank and Jolie’s Elise meet on a train to Venice. The thief, who went into hiding months ago after plastic surgery, instructs her by note to meet him in Venice. He tells Elise to sit with someone on the train who’s roughly his height and build, so the cops will be thrown off his trail.
She chooses Frank, a hippie-like math teacher from Wisconsin. The cops and the ripped-off mobster then make Frank a target for arrests and assaults. Elise pities him at first and tries to get him to safety. But he adores her so unquestioningly and so immediately that she starts to fall for him, too.
Jolie tries hard, but she’s playing romantic tennis with a guy whose racket strings are broken. Even when Frank urges a reckless cop to save Elise’s life, Depp rouses as much interest as a blind man at a flea circus. Perhaps he can’t decide how to play an ordinary guy who doesn’t swish or strut or have a funny accent: He has no exterior quirks on which to build a structure, so the character collapses.
The supporting cast is peopled with talented actors – Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton – who have next to nothing to do. Berkoff, whose sneering speech and toadlike face make him a perennial creep, is like those juiceless loonies who menaced Roger Moore in low-rent Bond movies.
Von Donnersmarck, whose pacing lacks energy, doesn’t help them. As he was the first writer on the screenplay, which adapts the 2005 French drama “Anthony Zimmer,” I blame him most for its clumsiness: Berkoff’s billionaire is supposedly a genius of crime, but he’s too stupid to test a man’s identity by asking a question only the two of them could answer. Surely an Oscar-winning writer should know better than that – let alone three of them!