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The Tourist Review

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by Casimir Harlow Mar 23, 2011

    The Tourist Review

    Dear oh dear, what went wrong with The Tourist? They had the star power, they had the money, the talented director and a story from a critically well-received (if marginally unsuccessful) French 2005 thriller, entitled Anthony Zimmer (Yes, in case you didn’t know, this is indeed another unnecessary Hollywood remake of a relatively recent foreign film). But The Tourist received almost global derision from audiences and critics alike, ending up (despite Box Office takings) as surely one of the least well-received movies that either of its main stars have done in the last decade.

    The story is simple: the British police are after a man named Alexander Pearce, who is wanted for millions of pounds’ worth of tax evasion. Oh, and he’s also being hunted by the Russian mob for the billions that he stole off them. Unfortunately, none of the authorities appear to have a clue as to what Pearce looks like. Their only lead is his girlfriend, Elise, who they have under 24-hour surveillance in Paris (with the help of the French authorities). They hope that Alex will be foolish enough to make contact and, sure enough, he does; getting Elise a message which tells her to board a train to Venice, and pick up a stranger who resembles Alex, obviously with a view to throwing the authorities off the scent by framing this complete stranger. Duly, Elise chooses Frank, a dull, unremarkable American tourist, who likes reading spy thrillers and appears to be meek and submissive enough for Elise to use him as the fall guy. With both the Russian mob and the authorities hot on their heels, does Frank have any idea what he’s getting himself into?

    Having not seen the original French film – even though it stars the stunning Sophie Marceau – I can’t explain exactly why it was better received than The Tourist, but I can suggest one possible answer: chemistry. If the French actors in the original had even a hint of on-screen chemistry between them, then that would have been considerably more than in the remake, and could arguably be the reason why viewers did not respond very well to this rehash. In fact, ‘did not respond very well’ is a bit of an understatement, as The Tourist is one of the few films that I’ve come across recently which I truly find hard to say anything positive about. Honestly, after watching the movie, I discussed it at length, and tried my best to come up with something nice to say. And the closest I could come to a compliment was the unusual European locations on offer – predominantly Venice. The trouble was that even that compliment was considerably sullied by the fact that half of the depicted Venice was pure CG (I guess that’s what the budget was spent on – more on that later).

    There really is nothing positive to say about The Tourist. It is a truly dull, meandering film. I can’t see how anybody – least of all the director himself – could have stated that this was any kind of ‘thriller’ (as he did), as, for it to be a thriller, there surely is a requirement for some kind of... well, thrills. A 10mph boat chase? Running around in striped pyjamas on fake studio set rooftops with a fake CG backdrop? I seriously can’t fathom how I managed to stay awake. And it got some kind of Best Comedy nominations at the Golden Globes, which is also truly baffling. I can only assume that, somehow, the awards committee were feeling bitingly witty at the time, and were labelling this purported romantic thriller as a ‘comedy’ because it was so unintentionally funny. Because, aside from the one vaguely amusing line in the whole film – the one that you hear again and again every time the trailer was (over)played – the majority of the humour in the movie was definitely not intended. What? What did she just say to him? Is she telling him how to be assertive but actually talking to him in a painfully condescending fashion? Well, it’s hilarious that he doesn’t just slap on his iPod and ignore the prissy bint. And did he just say ‘thank you’ in Spanish to an Italian policeman?? Although I have to admit that the policeman’s response was actually quite witty and smart (he replied, in Spanish), there was no reason to be interjecting foreign words into the conversation at all, since they were both speaking English. It didn’t make this character sound authentically silly, it made him sound like he was reading a comedy script for the part of ‘most ignorant foreigner’.

    Which brings me to the next big issue with The Tourist. Romance. Hollywood knows what this is, right? People meet, get along well, find that spark, fall in love, get together... maybe I should draw the Studios a picture. Because here they just appear to have slapped two of GQ’s top sex symbols of the year blah-de-blah together, sent them to Italy, told them to read some lines to one another, and assumed – ‘hey, presto!’ style – that this was romance. Well, it’s not. You need chemistry. Or, at least, you need the illusion of chemistry. If you want chemistry, watch anything with real-life couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in it (they pretty-much defined the term ‘on-screen chemistry’). It’s something which actors either have, or don’t, and when it happens, it can – by itself – be a good enough reason to watch almost any movie (prime example – The Adjustment Bureau, odd film, great chemistry). But you can have the ‘illusion’ of chemistry as well, and that can work – by all accounts Kim Basinger hated kissing Mickey Rourke in 9½ Weeks, but that didn’t stop them from looking like they were into each other.

    The stars in this movie – these Hollywood sex symbols, who command 100+ Million Dollar movies by themselves, let alone together – Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie have absolutely no chemistry. Not even a hint. They don’t even look that interested in speaking, let alone speaking to one another. Jolie may know how to swing her hips like the best of them, but she plays her part here as Elise in such an aloof fashion, that when she starts to actually emote and attempt to reveal her feelings (to both her co-star, and the audience), you can’t tell whether or not she’s still faking it like she was at the beginning. In fact, she looks like she’s faking it throughout. Depp is no better, dressing down completely with a bit more weight and a Peter Jackson beard, and absolutely no interest in having a conversation with the prissy beauty-queen-who-knows-it opposite him. You’d be forgiven for thinking he was still a little bit wasted (no doubt from all the dope his character smoked in Fear and Loathing), as, since the choice is that or a total and utter idiot, it’s probably preferable that we assume it was some sort of narcotics in action here. Either way, the two of them have no spark, no reason to get together in the first place, no reason to have a conversation at all, and thus no reason for the rest of the movie to ever take place. Other than for a pay cheque. Basically, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie got paid millions to waste your time in this movie. Oh, and they also both got Globe nominations for Best Actor/Actress in a comedy. The irony. Wow, maybe it was secretly a big satire on Hollywood thrillers, and Jolie and Depp were the only two who were in on the joke, sending up on-screen couples who meet and fall in love by depicting them flatly with zero chemistry and stilted lines. If only...

    As stated, without the chemistry, the film just falls apart. But it doesn’t help that everything else just doesn’t work. Paul Bettany’s excitable Scotland Yard detective? Well he’s already hampered by being in an office full of people wearing tweed (are this supposed to make us think that they are somehow quintessentially British?). Steven Berkoff? He’s played this role ever since the days of Beverly Hills Cop. Hell, even earlier. And yet still, after all these years, even he doesn’t question why his character has to behave like ‘trademark lead villain #1008’. Guess what happens when one of his goons fails to do what he is told? Go on, guess. Do you think Berkoff’s Russian mob boss (who, thankfully, is explained to be actually not Russian himself) is going to say ‘there, there, better luck next time’? Or strangle him with a measuring tape? Bingo. About the only person who gets away unscathed is Timothy Dalton, in a small cameo as the pragmatic Police Chief.

    The action sequences are non-existent, the tension was never there in the first place. Suspense? Forget about it, you’re just waiting for the end (and don’t even get me started on the ending – a horrible cop-out which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever) wondering where they spent all of the money. And then you realise, they spent it all on a scene where Johnny Depp is running across the Venice rooftops barefoot in his striped pyjamas, being chased by some of the most incompetent assassins in the world. It suddenly becomes clear – the Studios spent $100 Million on this scene alone, digitally removing the Italian backdrop, and making it look like a studio set on purpose. Oh, sorry, my mistake. Nope, this wasn’t the scene where they spent all the money. That was the scene after the filming ended, when Depp and Jolie were handed their pay cheques and walked off laughing. At us.