It never ceases to amaze me when an outstanding cast manages to create a hum-drum movie. Such is the case with The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The movie follows Elsie Ward (Jolie), a mysterious woman under surveillance by Scotland Yard and receiving covert messages from her even more mysterious love, Alexander Pearce. On a train from Paris to Venice, Elsie sits next to American math teacher Frank Tupelo (Depp) in order to convince the men tailing her that Frank is Alexander (who has had significant amounts of plastic surgery). Once in Venice, Frank and Elsie continue to develop a relationship, but they must also evade the police and the vengeful mobster who Alexander stole over two billion dollars from.
Combining elements of spy movies, mistaken identities, romance, and comedy, The Tourist has all the ingredients for what could have been a great thriller. There just isn’t enough heat. There’s an exquisite scene or two, but most of the movie is flat and I’m not sure if this feeling is the result of a lack of chemistry between Depp and Jolie, bad pacing, or what. Generally, I thought the aesthetic of the movie was too heavy. Jolie has too much makeup, the costumes are distractingly chic, and Depp’s hair is too messy. There’s just too much of everything. The locations are stunningly beautiful, but pairing the ornate architecture and interior design with all the other elements was overbearing.
Jolie’s performance as Elsie is a bit stiff. I understand that her character requires dimensions of mystery and guardedness, but Jolie looked like a mannequin for most of the movie. Her movements were too perfectly femme fatale and paired with the highly-tailored, expensive costumes and jewelry, at times she looked like she was supposed to be in a period piece. The result is that her character is unnerving at times, but mostly just boring.
Depp doesn’t quite work as a math teacher from Wisconsin. Late in the movie, I wondered if this “failure” was intentional, but as I was getting to know Frank Tupelo, I didn’t believe Depp’s performance. Gifted as he is, Depp didn’t really pull off acting ordinary or down to earth. He was, however, genuinely funny in several scenes and cringe-inducingly awkward in others. As a result, I thought that his performance was more interesting than Jolie’s, even if it wasn’t great.
The biggest problem with The Tourist, however, is the plot. When Frank and Elsie meet, Frank is reading a spy novel and Elsie asks him to tell her what her story would be if she were a character in his book. I think this exchange is good shorthand for the entire experience of the movie. It’s a thriller that follows all the tropes of good thrillers, but is too on-the-money about it. There’s not really any experimentation with the genre conventions and yet the surprise ending still feels tacked on and kind of cheap. Even the soundtrack is noticeably predictable. Making matters worse, The Tourist includes the stupidest, least exciting chase scene I can remember seeing. I think if the movie had continued to be kind of cheeky in its awareness of its own genre, or if it had included more variations on the expected, it could have been so much better.
For the feat of pairing two interesting actors and producing one sleepy movie, I rate The Tourist 2.5/5 stars.
The Tourist was directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donners with Christopher McQuarrie, and Julian Fellows, based on the French film Anthony Zimmer (2005). It runs 103 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
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