The Tourist is Dead on Arrival
December 13, 2010
At some point in The Tourist, a spy movie that’s both new and old, Johnny Depp tells Angelina Jolie, “Where I come from, the highest compliment you can pay a person is to say they are down-to-earth, grounded – and it drives me nuts.”
Depp is Frank Tupelo, an American math teacher on vacation in Venice. There, by chance, he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie), the enigmatic, big-lipped girlfriend of an enigmatic, big-time British thief. Jolie appears to be setting Depp up, trying to fool her pursuers from Scotland Yard into thinking that he is the thief. But, of course, nothing is as it seems.
I don’t need to say much more. You know it all – the movie saunters along as Jolie and Depp exchange elliptical dialogue, a jaded financier and his tuxedo-clad thugs complicate the chase, and the camera swoops above the pretty Venetian waterways and into lavish hotel rooms. The final twist is guessable from about the second scene.
After winning a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for The Lives of Others, a film adept at portraying the implications of modern technology, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck almost hints at something more meaningful within the genre-movie framework of The Tourist. Maybe he was trying to talk about the history of sparkly, romantic, “un-grounded” movies. Or maybe he was trying to buck the trend toward mechanical, particularized, “down-to-earth” physicality that modern American moviegoers find in Unstoppable or even Toy Story 3.
But instead, the whole thing is inert and stagnant. The story developments seem intentionally cooked and foreseeable, so that a viewer can only latch onto the movie’s vintage appeal: the setting’s old-fashioned glaze and Jolie’s old-fashioned gaze. For all the smug inspiration it takes from earlier caper movies – the sexual innuendo on a train (Hitchcock), pleasurable boat and rooftop chases, Timothy Dalton (an old James Bond) playing a supporting role – it comes off as uninspired.
Depp later asks Jolie, “May I pay you a compliment? You are the least down-to-earth person I have ever met.” The Tourist, by contrast, crashes while on autopilot; it suffers from being too down-to-earth.