The Tourist had all the cogs in place for a fine piece of Hollywood machinery: Two of the industry’s biggest stars, both with proven acting chops to boot; a director in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who was coming off a masterful Oscar winning film, The Lives of Others; and a writing team, DP, and composer with a myriad of Hollywood hits under their belts. But something went horribly awry, yielding a movie with as many holes as a piece of Swiss cheese and as few redeemable qualities as a Circuit City coupon.
The film opens with some potential, as operatives from Scotland Yard are in cahoots with the French police in an attempt to track down the elusive international criminal Alexander Pierce. They’re going to great lengths to monitor Elise (Angelina Jolie) who is the closest tie they have to Pierce. What makes their pursuit especially difficult is that no one knows what Pierce looks like because he’s supposedly spent millions on facial reconstruction (just one of the film’s countless weak plot points). In an ill-fated attempt to throw her would-be captors, Elise sits next to Fred (Johnny Depp) on a train to Venice. Fred is a math teacher at a community college in Wisconsin and is inexplicably traveling alone through Europe. Despite no palpable chemistry between the two actors, the movie suggests that they hit it off, and Fred becomes entangled in a complex web of international criminal activity, complete with stereotypical Lurch-like Russian thugs and endless mistaken identity.
The film unabashedly tries capture the mystique and allure of old Hollywood films like To Catch a Thief. It certainly has the opulent veneer but overlooked certain crucial elements like a well-crafted story and riveting suspense. The Tourist ends up looking like a very expensive ad for the Venetian tourist office. Angelina Jolie has become so poised and confident in her stardom that there is no chance for actual vulnerability. This is partly because of her enormous star persona, but most of the blame is owed to an uncommitted performance. She comes across as too arrogant to act. Johnny Depp, who has been able to play quirky roles in spite of his stardom, is simply not believable as a community college math teacher.
Donnersmarck, who had deftly used cross-cutting to build suspense in The Lives of Others, failed to excite any interest in the action. Ideas are there, but none come into fruition. One scene begins to make the streets of Venice look like a maze, but rather than employing the confusion and intricacies of the setting, that scene winds up as a boat chase that looks more like a ride through a lazy river than a big budget action sequence. Plot twists occur in excess, but without any tension, there isn’t any payoff. And we’re guided throughout by James Newton Howard’s painfully heavy-handed score, that tells us with an air of condescension when to feel anything.
But in reality, no one goes into a movie like “The Tourist” expecting to be moved. While we deserve a certain level of performance from our highest paid and most glamorous actors, our expectations don’t demand it. What we do demand is spectacle. Memorable car chases, steamy sex, explosions, and at least one scene that combines the three. But “The Tourist” offers no sex and extremely underwhelming action. What’s left? Not much at all.