The Tourist 1 1/2 stars (out of 4) Rated: PG
As a thriller, The Tourist makes a good travelogue.
It’s as awkward as an unfolded map and as infuriating as a border bureaucrat. If you’re content with watching the beautiful Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie get chased along the cobblestones of Paris and the canals of Venice, then it fulfills those low eye-candy expectations. The makeup is impeccable; the scenery is pleasing.
In cinematic terms, it’s North by Northwest without the mystery and Charade without the personal chemistry. Which is a disappointment and also somewhat of a shock, given the personnel involved.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made The Lives of Others, one of the most thoughtful and unsettling thrillers of the past decade.
He co-wrote The Tourist screenplay, adapting it from a French film, along with two fine writers: Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Young Victoria). Why are they now settling for pretty pictures and mediocrity?
You’d also expect more combustion between Jolie and Depp. Instead they strike poses: she dresses and walks like she’s on a fashion runaway; he runs around in his pajamas as if he’s in a Buster Keaton movie.
Jolie is British mystery woman Elise Ward, who is up to something. She’s wanted by Scotland Yard and Interpol, who watch her every move through secret cameras.
Depp is Wisconsin math teacher Frank Tupelo, the tourist of the title. Frank is up to nothing and he’s wanted by nobody — until he gets mixed up with Elise.
Frank is mistaken for Alexander Pearce, a larcenous banker who has stolen $2.3 billion from a vengeful gangster (Steven Berkoff). Wait a second, who’s the real crook here?
Whatever, nobody actually knows what Pearce looks like, including the Scotland Yard sleuth (Paul Bettany) who has been tracking him and Elise for the past year. Even Elise doesn’t seem to have a clue, and she’s Pearce’s ex-lover. The reason proffered for this is frankly ridiculous.
There is banter, none of it memorable: Elise scolds like a shrew and Frank mostly just takes it. Depp amuses by constantly using Spanish words instead of Italian ones, and offering “Bon Jovi” for buon giorno, but it’s small consolation.
There are the requisite action set pieces, where faceless stooges shoot badly at Depp and Jolie while our heroes scamper across rooftops, ride the rails and zip along canals. Here Depp once again mildly amuses, at one point leading a lukewarm pursuit whilst in his jammies.
The script is the main beef. It’s possibly the year’s laziest and most implausible thriller scenario, and that’s saying something in an annus horribilis that also includes the likes of Knight and Day and Killers. Reports of multiple director and cast changes might be the reason.
The Tourist really lives up to its name, though. It looks for all the world as if everybody just felt like going on a fun trip to Europe, and couldn’t be bothered with all the donkey work of making a movie that actually made sense or offered any real thrills.
A fine time was had by all, except the sorry viewer.
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.