Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tourist (2010)

You never realize how old-fashioned movie genres have fallen by the wayside until some attempt to recapture them comes along. For example, for a long time the Western was a dying breed, experiencing a brief renaissance with Unforgiven and then having a terrific moment as of late (see: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma, Meek's Cutoff, FX's Justified). Remember the royalty dramas of the 1960s and 1990s Miramax? The King's Speech is a perfect example of that genre making a comeback. And until you see something such as Leatherheads (screwball comedy) or Water for Elephants (epic romance), you never give a passing thought to the fact that many of the genres of yore have been so souped up to be "contemporary" and "gritty" that the originals seem dated, relics from a lost age of Hollywood. Perhaps that's why we tend to romanticize the early films; there's just nothing like them out there anymore.

The Tourist is a decidedly old-fashioned movie, operating as a romantic Hitchcockian thriller. Adding to that old-fashioned feel is the fact that the film stars two beautiful actors, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, who on top of having considerable acting abilities are also huge A-list stars. The posh European setting allows for an exotic feel, and the city of Venice is lovingly shot as a waterlogged paradise, a place where love is always in the air and the people are as beautiful as the city itself (cinematographer John Seale, perhaps best known for The English Patient, does a fantastic job at romanticizing the people and places).

Those beautiful shots are the only things about the film that work. The Tourist instead comes off like a bored attempt to make a romantic thriller out of scraps of screenplays from a studio vault, put together by a director who wants to be doing something else with actors who seem to have taken the job for no reason other than a chance to be paid for a European vacation.

The story follows Elise (Jolie), a woman who's working with a notorious financial criminal named Alexander Pearce. Scotland Yard, led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) is pursuing Pearce, as is a Russian mafia, and both are attempting to find him through Elise. Upon instruction from Pearce, she latches onto American tourist Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher trying to overcome his recent heartbreaks. He quickly falls for her, and ends up entangled in the whole affair and desperately trying to stay alive and win Elise away from Pearce to come with him.

The story takes all sorts of pointless twists, mostly in situations where Frank finds himself involved in the Pearce situation, Elise gives him a way out, and he moronically chooses to continue pursuing her instead because he's in love with her. The film is filled with plot contrivances just like these, with each one more unbelievable than the first. The plot becomes flimsier as it goes on, and the final twist is obvious within the first half hour, making the whole thing an unnecessary genre exercise that's a pale imitation of better movies.

But what really derails The Tourist are two fatal flaws. The first is that, for a thriller, it's extremely dull. None of the action sequences have any tension, and they're not executed in a way that makes them even remotely interesting. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (who, for the record, has the most awesome name) seems completely uninterested in the film, barely making an effort to make anything seem like its important or exciting. The second is that Jolie and Depp have absolutely zero chemistry, and neither seem to put much effort into their roles. Jolie mostly struts and poses beautifully and puts on a terrible British accent, while Depp is oddly emotionless for someone who's completely in love with a stranger. His Frank is also remarkably spineless, flopping around from here to there without anything to suggest that he's managed to stay alive for the movie's running time. The nadir of their awful flirtation comes when Frank finds Elise at a soiree to convince her to come with him: he blankly confesses his feelings to him, while she half-heartedly tells him she can't. It's a terribly written, terribly acted, terribly directed scene, and it comes to define the movie as a whole.

Somehow, The Tourist managed to scrape a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture (Musical/Comedy), which absolutely blows my mind. If anything, it makes me yearn for the magnificence of films like North by Northwest and other wrong-man thrillers. It's a shame no one bothered to actually invest in making a good movie. D+

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