It is no easier to make a dull movie than an exciting one, generally speaking. But it can't have been easy to make a movie as lacklustre and wan as The Tourist with megawatt stars like Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, both eminently watchable actors. And yet, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), working from a script he co-authored with Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) has done just that. That's a whole lot of filmmaking talent gone meh.
But wait, there's more: Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, and Rufus Sewell are also in The Tourist, and none of them manage to liven up the joint either, which is really quite remarkable. Venice, however, looks swell. I'm sure it's a lovely place to make a movie, which is, I suppose, reason enough to do it, even if the movie is The Tourist.
Venice is the setting for most of the action in The Tourist, a mystery-thriller about an ordinary guy getting mixed up in international intrigue and a case of mistaken identity, instead of having a nice, quiet little vacation abroad. It's the kind of film Hitchcock might have made (and did make), only Hitch would have made it a lot more fun and entertaining than this. Jolie, decked out in an assortment of formfitting retro dresses and elbow-length gloves certainly dresses the part of the old school femme fatale as Elise Clifton-Ward, a mysterious woman being followed by Interpol. She poses, she postures, she vamps, she's in love with a criminal. So she boards a train from Paris to Venice, and following instructions she receives in a letter from her lover, Alexander Pierce, she finds a fall guy in Frank Tupelo (Depp), a sad, timid math teacher from Wisconsin.
Elise takes Frank to a luxurious hotel. Things get more complicated from there -- Venice is crawling with bad guys who think Frank is Pierce. Pierce stole money from said bad guys -- a lot of money -- and they want it back. So they want Frank. Meanwhile Scotland Yard wants Pierce because he owes back taxes on the stolen money.
The plot is fairly preposterous, but it ends up being fairly predictable too, which is far worse. A preposterous plot I can get behind, as long as it entertains and surprises. The Tourist goes through the motions of an exciting thriller -- dinner on a train, boat chases through the canals of Venice, rooftop pursuit, jumping onto a canvas awning efficiently combined with crashing into a fruit stand -- all the old chestnuts are there, but there is never a moment in the movie when it's possible to believe that either Elise or Frank is in genuine peril.
The real problem with The Tourist, though, is that no one involved (except maybe Jolie) seems to know that this is not a movie to be taken seriously. The Tourist could have been livened up considerably with some zingy dialogue, a little witty patter, some comic romantic tension. Frank is awfully morose for a man being pursued by mobsters, Interpol, and Scotland Yard, while mixed up with a gorgeous dame who gets in all kinds of trouble -- he seems enervated rather than energized by the whole experience. He's the straight man to Jolie's vamp. Depp's no slouch in the vamping department himself (e.g. Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter), but someone forgot to tell him that this much glamorous, cliche-riddled nonsense needs a leading man who knows that the straight man can't be played with a straight face.