The Tourist

Movie review by Greg Carlson

The regally named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck squanders his post-“The Lives of Others” art-house credibility with “The Tourist,” the umpteenth homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s dazzling romantic thrillers that falls far short of the Master of Suspense. Lavishly shot on location in Venice with A-listers Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, the movie promises charm, eroticism, and action but delivers absolutely none of these things. A remake of the French film “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” inserts stultifying, unintentionally hilarious low-speed boat chases, dull chastity, rooftop scrambles, and groaning plot machinery where there should be effervescent and amorous stimulation.

The opening scenes show at least a hint of metanarrative, as Jolie’s Elise Ward is studied, ogled, and gazed upon by men on the street and hidden behind the tinted glass of a surveillance van. Studied from every angle, the mysterious Elise receives a note from her lover (a presumably clever and elusive thief named Alexander Pierce) instructing her to confuse Interpol and a gang of vicious thugs by taking up with a stranger on a train. She selects, more laughably than comically, a Madison, Wisconsin community college math teacher named Frank Tupelo (Depp), sweeping him off his feet and into a gorgeously appointed grand hotel suite as the pursuers close in.

Jolie’s experimental British accent forces her character into a state of imperiousness that prevents any real heat between Elise and Frank. It doesn’t help that the clumsy screenplay fails to include the kind of smoldering double entendre present in “North by Northwest” and “To Catch a Thief,” the two Hitchcock films (along with Stanley Donen’s own Hitchcock tribute “Charade”) that “The Tourist” aims to resemble. Instead, the sheepish Frank sleeps on the couch in his PJs, cheating the audience out of what should have been one of the movie’s certain attractions. The remainder of the film, despite a truncated wet dream and the sight of Jolie channeling Sophia Loren at an opulent ball, insists on vacuum-sealed sexlessness.

Those who plan to see the film are warned to stop reading here. An ill-conceived twist revealed at the climax of the movie represents the single-most devastating failure of “The Tourist.” The mild-mannered title character played by Depp is, in fact, the sought-after Alexander Pierce – the movie’s MacGuffin who has been hiding in plain sight courtesy of a fortune in plastic surgery. Viewers are asked to somehow believe the unbelievable. Have Elise and Frank been engaging in an elaborate role-play or is Elise, now revealed as a highly trained undercover agent, not capable of figuring out that the man she selected as a decoy is in fact the same person with whom she intimately spent the previous year?

Insulting and idiotic, the introduction of this information wholly negates every interaction between Elise and Frank that has come before. If Frank and Elise are merely toying with the agents pursuing them, why would they pretend not to know one another when they are behind closed doors? Certainly, scores of films mislead viewers in this, or similar, fashion – Alan Parker’s “Angel Heart” and Alexandre Aja’s “High Tension” are two examples. One of three credited screenwriters on “The Tourist” is Christopher McQuarrie, whose Keyser Soze in “The Usual Suspects” is a prime representation of a figure, like Alexander Pierce in “The Tourist” whose identity is disclosed as a last-minute surprise.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 12/13/10.

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