When Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck's (The Lives of Others) latest project was given an earlier release date, and bumped up from March 2011 to December of 2010, it was taken as a good sign. Though there are exceptions, March isn't generally thought of as a great month for box-office intake, and considering that the film boasted the first ever pairing of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, the move seemed like a smart bet. But having seen the film, the studios behind it should have gone with their original release date. With lowered expectations, the film wouldn't be at as much risk. But by throwing it out in the holiday/awards season for everyone to see, the studio now gets to watch its film stand as one of the true misfires of the year.
Despite the pedigree of its director, the trailers only indicated that the film was meant to be zippy, twisty, popcorn fun. After all, when you've got Depp and Jolie together, you're probably aiming to turn a nice profit, and you want them in something accessible. And even though I spend a lot of time obsessing over awards season, I have nothing against "popcorn" movies in the slightest. That is, unless they simply flat-out suck, and unfortunately, that's the case with The Tourist.
From its opening scenes, where we follow Elise (Jolie) as she evades police forces on her way from Paris to Venice, the main word that comes to mind is "flat." Not even for an instant does The Tourist generate an ounce of suspense or fun. And even though the opening is forgivable, as the movie progresses, it only gets worse. When Jolie and Depp meet for the first time (on a train), they barely generate sparks. Rather, they sputter amusingly for a few minutes and then die out completely. So lacking is their chemistry that the film descends into boredom and worse, tedium. When Elise kisses Frank (Depp, obviously), it feels more like a story-telling obligation, rather than a genuine moment of romantic intrigue. They talk about their pasts; he's a math teacher from Wisconsin (Michigan? ah, who cares), she's the girl-friend of a man who's gone missing (and has also stolen nearly $1 billion from a London mobster). And like that kiss, these conversations also feel like obligations. Donnersmarck has talked extensively of his influences, namely 2005's Anthony Zimmer, along with classics like Charade. Yet for all of his talk, Donnersmarck and screenwriters Christopher McQuarry (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) deliver very little.
And that's what's most disappointing about The Tourist: its total lack of ambition. For a movie that runs 1 hr 40 min, it feels as though a rather large segment has gone missing. The film's plot adds very little when it introduces an unexpected (yet still weak) twist about an hour in, and there's next to nothing of value in terms of plot points and details. If you're expecting a caper with the level of mischief of Ocean's 11, you're going to be sorely disappointed; the stakes are almost never raised, and when they are, it's minimal. Adding to the disappointment are the flat action scenes, and the indistinguishable goons that the gangster Shaw sets upon Elise and Frank. And, not to be outdone, the film also throws in a police force (headed by Paul Bettany) filled to the brim with incompetence. It's not as bad as the idiots in Unstoppable, but it's close. The only good thing is that it provides an opportunity for Alessio Boni (from the fantastic The Best of Youth) to show up, even if all he does is look stern. Worst of all, without spoiling anything, is the use of Rufus Sewell's mysterious, name-less character. When his role in the proceedings is finally explained, you'll be left dumbfounded at just how lazy the script becomes. Clearly McQuarry or Fellowes simply wanted to end the damn thing, and they do it horrendously.
As far as our leading man and lady are concerned, there's little to praise or harp on. Depp fares better and brings his trademark quirks and awkwardness to Frank, ensuring that a handful of lines produce a mild chuckle. Jolie looks gorgeous (albeit a bit gaunt) through the whole thing, but her only direction seems to have been "be glamorous and mysterious and...that's it." Everyone else plays their one-note roles with relatively little energy, and neither the lush Venice vistas nor the energetic score by James Newton Howard ever pick up the slack. As a thriller, a romance, and a star-vehicle, The Tourist fails on just about every level. Look for it to do decent-to-strong business opening weekend (although Voyage of the Dawn Treader could crush it), and then drop off the face of the earth shortly afterward. It's not worth the time or the money, or even a rental. It's not the worst movie of the year, but it's certainly not a good one, or even a remotely satisfying one. You'd be better off simply going to Venice and hoping that you'll randomly spot either Jolie or Depp there on vacation; it's likely to satisfy you more than this film ever will.