Saturday, January 8, 2011


Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp make a great looking couple in German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s crime thriller “The Tourist,” an elegant but anemic homage to Alfred Hitchcock movies about strangers who meet on a train and fall in love. Everything about the PG-13 rated “Tourist” (** out of ***) looks great, too. “Dead Poets Society” lenser John Seale makes every shot of our well-coiffed heroine in control and our debonair hero in jeopardy around scenic Venice appear absolutely stunning. Aside from one scene where a man is strangled under rather unbelievable circumstances, the violence qualifies as standard-issue combat with nothing that particularly distinguishes it from ten-thousand other lackluster thrillers. In other words, the violence never escalates into the blood, gore, and more variety with blasted-off body parts or exotic forms of mayhem. Meantime, Donnersmarck and scenarists Christopher McQuarrie of “The Usual Suspects” and Julian Fellowes of “Vanity Fair” have contrived what amounts to a predictable potboiler about mistaken identities. The formulaic screenplay, sketchy characters, and absence of anything masquerading as momentum undercut this inert picture-postcard exercise in suspense. Not surprisingly, the filmmakers try to be clever with a surprise ending that may pull the rug out from under some audiences while others won’t be hoodwinked by this sloppy trick. Aside from Seale‘s sensational cinematography, “The Tourist” boasts a top-notch cast that features Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton, and Steven Berkoff. The lack of substance in the storyline ultimately diminishes this fine looking film.

Madison Community College mathematics instructor Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp of “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) is on a European holiday when he encounters the hopelessly beautiful Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie of “Salt”) while on a Parisian train bound for Venice. They strike up an acquaintance that turns into a quirky one-sided romantic romp that takes up the better part of the action. Mind you, “The Tourist” qualifies as a lightweight, romantic comedy with one abrasive scene. No, Frank’s dark magnetism has nothing to do with Elise’s decision to approach him on the train. She is a mysterious dame herself who has been under constant surveillance by the authorities in England and France. French authorities, particularly the Financial Crimes Division, struggle to be inconspicuous as they follow her around in a van decked out with all the latest surveillance technology. They arrest anybody that she talks to that may fit the description of a criminal who has stolen over $744 million. Moreover, they stay in constant contact with Scotland Yard, specifically Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany of “Legion”), who has been trying to catch Elise with a notorious Englishman, an international fugitive named Alexander Pearce. They arrest a bicycle courier when he delivers a message to Elisa at a café and then later release him because he isn’t Pearce.

Pearce, it seems, appropriated his millions from the most malevolent gangster in Europe, Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff of “Beverly Hills Cop”), who doesn’t so much kill his adversaries as annihilate them and their families. He boasts at one point that he killed both anybody who made love to his wife before he met her as well as everybody afterward. Essentially, Shaw resembles Keyser Söze, the no-holds-barred Turkish criminal mastermind from Christopher Macquarie’s “The Usual Suspects” script.

When the French authorities send Acheson a photograph of the latest Pearce suspect, a corrupt Scotland Yard administrative assistant leaks word to Shaw about Pearce. Of course, Frank Tupelo isn’t Pearce. Indeed, Elisa strikes up an affair of sorts with Tupelo because the real Pearce asked her to find somebody that approximated his height and weight to mislead the authorities into thinking that he was Pearce. Before long, the clueless Frank Tupelo finds himself dodging bullets from Shaw’s trigger-happy Eastern Bloc gunmen. Later, Tupelo winds up handcuffed to a boat trying to escape more of Shaw’s incompetent henchmen. Shaw displays little patience for their ineptitude. He strangles one with a tailor’s measuring tape in front of the tailor as well as his own men. The villainous Shaw ranks as the toughest and least likeable character in “The Tourist.”

Acheson’s boss at Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Jones (Timothy Dalton of “The Living Daylights”) has spent $8 million trying to track down the elusive Pearce. Now, Jones wants to waste no more time or money on the fugitive. Nevertheless, against Jones’ orders, Acheson decides to stick with the case and Elisa turns herself in to help him. The showdown in Venice with a Scotland Yard sniper team proving their enviable expertise with telescopic rifles is about as good as “The Tourist” gets before it pulls its switcheroo ploy. As clever as it appears initially, this reversal lacks credibility. At the same time, the international fugitive proves his love for the heroine and Jones walks away gratified, even though Acheson doesn’t believe a word of it!

Angelina Jolie plays a seductress who can wear an off-the-shoulder gown and pick a lock with ease. For the record, she wears 12 dresses in “The Tourist.” She is at her most elegant and cavorts about in fashionable apparel and high heels. Johnny Depp is at his most vulnerable in a role that provides him with little in the way of mystery. He wears his whiskers with style and smokes an ingenious looking device masquerading as a cigarette. This mechanical cigarette resembles an actual filter-tipped cigarette except it delivers only nicotine and water vapor so user appears to be smoking. The glow on the end is furnished courtesy of an LED. Keep your eyes on that cigarette if you want to enjoy this sly but shallow film. The British supporting cast, including former James Bond Timothy Dalton and Paul Bettany, make the police look good. The most interesting but least seen character is another Englishman (Rufus Sewell of “Dark City”) who skulks at the periphery. Sophomore Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s directing is flawless, but the same cannot be said of the thin screenplay. For the record, “The Tourist” is a remake of the French thriller “Anthony Zimmer” (2005) that toplined Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal. Unfortunately, looks alone don’t give “The Tourist” what it needs to be either invigorating or mystifying. Ultimately, “The Tourist” is a sight that isn’t worth seeing.

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