There are tons of ways to screw up a movie with a stellarcast, and placing them on a pedestal high above the rest of the movie is one ofthe most efficient. I had high hopes for The Tourist, partly because, even though I think Angelina Jolie ispossibly the single most overrated actor in Hollywood, I’ll watch Johnny Deppdo just about anything. Unfortunately, director Florial Henckel vonDonnersmarck places all the emphasis on turning the whole thing into a shallowvehicle for Jolie and Depp, striving to create chemistry between them and thenasking us to focus so closely on it that the rest of the movie almost becomesirrelevant.
And the story isn’t much to get excited about either, evenif it had been fleshed out with a little more effort. Jolie plays in the femmefatale in the story of a mysterious woman named Elise Ward who picks up arandom man on a train (and great effort is made to make Johnny Depp look likejust some guy), and lures him back to her hotel with her smoky sexiness. Itturns out that her partner is a swindling banker named Alexander Pearce, whostole like a billion dollars from an investor before fleeingthe UK with Scotland Yard and the Russian mob hot on her tail. Sounds like agood time to find some schmuck to pass off as her partner in case the Russianscatch up to her.
This poor Schmuck is Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), thetraveling American math teacher in the title role. Unfortunately, their sillymeet-cute is pulled so blandly out of 1950s espionage cinema that it completelyflattens out the rest of the movie. There are attempts to make the movie into aserious thriller (Depp takes his performance seriously, for example, whileJolie seems to be riding on the coattails of her own star power).
But here’s the main problem I had with the movie. Jolie isin a femme fatale role, and she’s setting this inoffensive math teacher up fordestruction, but we’re still inclined to like her, because she’s Angelina. Hermotives during their first meeting on the train essentially amount to murder,but the movie has to do something to retain her likability in the face of herattempt to bring about the downfall of another character that we like (evenmore), and this in effect brings creates a glass ceiling that the movie wouldbe unable to surpass even in the hands of a talented cast and crew.
And I say this because there is enormous talent involved inthe cast and crew. The two stars are probably a lot of the reason that such aheavily flawed screenplay made it into production (I’m guessing that allrewrites and revisions stopped when Jolie and Depp signed on, since they didn’treally matter anymore), but there is also an impressive list of other actors inside roles, which tends to be a signpost of a well-made movie.
Sadly, not quite so in this case. So much effort is made tocreate chemistry between the two cash cow actors in the lead roles that no oneever noticed that they just don’t work that well together. Even an intern couldhave bumped into von Donnersmarck in the elevator and been like, “Sir, I don’tmean to tell you how to do your job, but Jolie and Depp are doing nothing foreach other here…” Maybe all the interns were afroad of him because he directedthe smashing film The Lives of Others afew years ago. But the screenplay was also written by Christopher McQuarrie,who wrote The Usual Suspects, andJulian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park. All three men won Oscars for those efforts, and now they’re teamed upwith two of the most famous actors in the world and they’ve created a cinematicsaltine. Go figure.
Basically this is an espionage thriller that’s like abuilding built on a bad foundation. Consider Johnny Depp’s character. It’s nothard to make Depp appealing, but it is when he’s squeezed into a role where heneeds to be likable and interesting, but we can’t really know anything realabout him or too much about the rest of the story will be given away. But atleast Angelina’s make-up and costumes are utilized enough to turn her into afreight train of glamour and style, so Depp’s incredulous reactions are greatcomic relief.
The thrilling chases across false rooftops add to themovie’s nostalgic feel, and are some of the best scenes in the movie, but vonDonnersmarck just takes on too many different story elements and doesn’t reallyknow (or doesn’t try) to tie them all together in the kind of thrilling finalethat a good thriller deserves. The aesthetic appeal is top notch, but theexecution equally unimpressive.
The Bean Meter