Silver Screen: The Tourist **
The Tourist is a strange creature: a passably entertaining movie masquerading as an unrepentantly boring one. It was never going to be great, but this adaptation of the French film Anthony Zimmer has a fun premise at its core. However, the central conceit is hidden to facilitate a big twist in the final moments, one that does come as a surprise-- the problem being that the cost of that surprise is to render almost everything that comes before it very, very dull.
The film opens with perhaps the least-subtle surveillance crew in the history of lousy spy movies as they follow the lavishly styled Elise (Angelina Jolie) down the street to a café . A gaggle of agents leer at her through hidden cameras and telephoto lenses, closely monitoring every twitch of her ass and raise of her eyebrows. It's implied that we too would be quite happy to stare at Jolie doing next to nothing for hours on end, which turns out to be a pretty fair estimation of the remainder of the film. So deep is the filmmakers' faith in Jolie's mystique that they never bother to craft anything like a character for her, relying instead on the increasingly literal sharpness of her features and her aura of weirdness (She likes knives! She used to wear a necklace made from Billy Bob Thornton's blood!) augmented by a British accent that sounds native to whatever imaginary country Madonna moved to ten years ago.
Elise, playing a romance-prone materialist, gets a note from her crooked accountant boyfriend, Alexander, who's been missing in action since he stole billions from his gangster boss. He's gone into hiding, surgically altered his features to be unrecognizable, and plans to resurface to reunite with her and his money. To shake the Scotland Yard agents tailing her, she's supposed to find a stranger with Alexander's basic height and build, pretend that he's Alexander 2.0, then let the Englishmen chase after the decoy while the couple makes a clean getaway.
Elise comes across the ideal patsy on a passenger train. Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) is a math teacher who works at a community college in Madison, Wisconsin, thus making Depp officially the most inappropriately cast person to ever play a Wisconsinite. He's on a solo tour of Europe, reading a spy novel and smoking one of those weird mechanical smokeless cigarettes, when she comes on strong and invites him to come stay with her at a posh suite in Venice. He agrees, never even bothering to check to see if she's a hooker-- which should be the first thing you do if a woman who looks like Angelina Jolie in a $1,000 dress ever picks you out of a crowd seemingly at random and asks you to come stay in her expensive hotel room for awhile. That's a free tip to Nightlife readers.
Frank follows along, and soon he's being chased by both the leader of Scotland Yard's investigation, a dour cop played by Paul Bettany, and a crew of generic gangsters. They pursue him through a series of semi-comedic action setpieces, mostly bloodless, as he attempts to reconnect with the mystery woman, with whom he claims he has fallen in love.
The Tourist plays like a classier, more subdued version of this year's earlier Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. In both cases an ordinary schmuck is plucked at random from mass transit by a sexy, dangerous person and thrust into a giddily perilous globetrotting adventure. The only significant difference, at least until a twist or two renders its already-deflated premise topsy-turvy, is that The Tourist has pretensions toward being a movie more along the lines of Hepburn and Grant's Charade rather than a summer blockbuster; both movies, ultimately, fail in their respective endeavors.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who is pretty much bogarting the whole alphabet, comes to this trifle via the acclaimed Oscar-winning German film The Lives of Others. He and cinematographer John Seale make the movie aesthetically pleasing; not only are Jolie and Depp lovingly photographed, but the camera lingers on gauzy fabrics, ornate hotel rooms, wonderful architecture, glorious European vistas, and the glimmering canals of Venice. But they're not making a vacation brochure here, they're supposed to be making a movie, and it seems that von Donnersmarck was overconfident that the pure star power of Depp and Jolie-- who evince fairly little chemistry-- would be enough to carry the film. It's not.
For romance among schemers and scammers, stay home and rent Tony Gilroy's buoyant, zippy, and woefully underappreciated Duplicity instead. It's got twists, good-looking (maybe not quite as good-looking) people, and plenty of background decadence. The difference is, Duplicity is actually fun to watch.