▲ Jolie and Depp end up going down with the ship in “The Tourist.” Photo GK Films
Christmas brings out the best and the worst of Hollywood: “The Tourist” falls squarely on the latter part of that spectrum. Like an elegant package which opened on Christmas reveals another pair of pajamas from grandmother, this romantic thriller comes with all the tinsel and trappings of a great film. Two of Hollywood's most beautiful faces, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, share the screen in their first film together as a mysterious femme fatale and the tourist she seduces aboard a train bound for Venice. With stunning stars, romantic locales, even a director with an Oscar winning picture under his belt, “The Tourist” should be a perfect getaway for a holiday afternoon, but this trip turns lackluster even before leaving the station.
The movie begins in that city synonymous with amorous and glamorous films, Paris, where Mrs. Jolie emerges from her apartment straight into a chase sequence. French police are tailing Mrs. Jolie’s character, Elise Clifton-Ward, at the behest of British investigators searching for her former lover, a man named Alexander Pierce. The elusive Pierce pilfered more than a billion dollars from a gangster he once served as an investment banker, then went on the lam with Elise, though the couple became separated two years before the story opens.
Two of the film’s most gaping narrative gaffes are that Pierce’s motives for the theft are left utterly unexplained, and the film offers only a wafer thin reason for why the British police are pursuing Pierce: unpaid taxes. The first 15 minutes of the film show Elise dodging Paris police to board a train for Venice to rendezvous with Pierce. In a letter Elise receives from Pierce before leaving Paris, she is instructed to throw the police off her trail by choosing someone on the train with a similar build to Pierce and befriending him, making her pursuers believe he is Pierce.
Elise’s penetrating stare settles on an American, Mr. Depp’s titular tourist named Frank Tupelo, a math teacher vacationing in Europe.
The minute that Mrs. Jolie assumes position across from her co-star, however, the film veers sharply off course, starting a steady decline into absurdity. Over soaring strings and picturesque landscapes of the French countryside and Venetian canals, the pair appear to fall for each other, though stilted dialogue prevents the audience from accurately ascertaining either party's emotions. As both the gangsters and detectives descend on Venice to scour the city for Pierce, the film ratchets up the action with boat chases, rooftop footraces, and even a fleeting prison visit for poor Tupelo. “The Tourist” keeps the audience guessing as to when Pierce will make his dramatic entrance, but when the reveal finally arrives, the film manages to turn it into a miffing anticlimax.
The film leaves the viewer confused primarily due to the perplexing chemistry between Mrs. Jolie and Mr. Depp. Despite their equally prodigious abilities, Mrs. Jolie and Mr. Depp disappoint in “The Tourist.” Much of the blame for their shortcomings could be slapped on the screenplay, a roughshod piece of workmanship in need of extensive rewrites. This excuse, however, cannot account for the passionless way that Mrs. Jolie and Mr. Depp approach their characters, two people caught in the center of an exceedingly erotically charged situation. A love triangle with billions of dollars at stake should make even the most mundane math teacher an Olivier for a moment, but Mr. Depp’s Tupelo remains unchanged from start to unsatisfying finish.
Another mystery at work in “The Tourist” involves the director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Mr. von Donnersmarck’s directorial debut was “The Lives of Others,” a German film that won the 2007 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. While “The Lives of Others” and “The Tourist” share thematic similarities with their focus on surveillance and shifting identities and allegiances, the two films barely appear to be directed by the same soul. “The Lives of Others” was a piercing examination of a painful era of German history, while “The Tourist” is Hollywood eye candy worth little more than a glance. Maybe Mr. von Donnersmarck needed a break after his meteoric rise, but hopefully “The Tourist” will be only a short sojourn for this new talent.
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