Friday, December 17, 2010

Like a Three Hour Tour

Back in early October, I happened upon a trio of trailers for films coming out later in 2010 that looked so good, I was chomping at the bit for the chance to see them. Hereafter, by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon, was the first I saw but failed to impress, so overwrought with predictability and cheese. The Fighter, which I just reviewed on Wednesday, was much better and will probably be remembered as one of the best films this year. And so we come upon The Tourist. Headlined by hot-topic celeb actors Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (director of the fantastic German film The Lives of Others), The Tourist SHOULD have been an excellent film. How could you put this much talent in one film, along with co-star Paul Bettany, and not come away with something worth seeing? Answers may surprise you.

"So... come here often?"
In the film, Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from the United States who's in Europe on vacation. While riding a train to Venice, Frank meets the mysterious Elise, played by Angelina Jolie. Elise is trying to throw the police off her trail by making them think that Frank is her husband, Alexander Pearce, who has been on the run from Scotland Yard for not paying millions in taxes on the money he stole from a gangster. The unwitting Frank is not only sought after by the police after meeting Elise, but also by the gangster and his thugs, who arrive in Venice to get the money that was stolen from them and take Elise and the man they think is her husband out of the picture for good.

"And THIS is the hotel we've bought for Maddox..."
The film is actually a remake, though one would have to be quite versed in foreign film (or have Wikipedia access on the fly) to realize that. The film was remade from the little-known 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, meaning The Tourist is in the same boat as films Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let Me In as a film that only recently had been released overseas before Hollywood went out and made their own versions. Of course, Girl and Let Me In were international hits, even if they were never promoted properly here. Anthony Zimmer was a bomb in France and never released in the States, so why they would remake this film is a mystery, unless someone liked the plot SO much that making the film was a foregone conclusion. The film does do some things well, especially in the cinematography department. Shots of Venice are absolutely exquisite. If you've never been to the place, you might not understand just how beautiful the city is, but the clarity of the film's shots stands out as one of the film's best aspects, and I found myself going back in time to wandering the ancient city's streets.

Bettany secretly teaches Depp how to be good in mediocre films
While the acting in the film should have been much better, I can't agree with so many reviewers who say that Jolie and Depp had NO chemistry here. It's simply not the kind of romantic entanglement you're used to in this type of film, and I actually thought the two of them did a fairly good job. Jolie was able to extend her "mysterious stranger" muscles as the beguiling Elise, and was much better than her ill-fated stint as an action hero in this year's Salt. Her role (and matching wardrobe) drew images in my head of other classic divas of yesteryear, such as Audrey Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman, and her charm draws the audience into paying attention to her every action. And Depp plays his usual blend of nervous oddball with a small bit of charm at the right moments. The problem with them stems not from their skills or chemistry, but rather that they have overly simplistic interactions. Frank can't take his eyes off of Elise, says something silly; She rebuffs him, often to the laughter of the audience; he can't get enough of it. It's funny at first until you realize that it's this pretty much over and over, with few scenes in between of the other major characters or Frank by himself just to break the monotony. At least they're better than their co-stars, and as sad as it is to say I think Paul Bettany has perhaps lost the ability to be in a decent flick. He's got the talent to be a star, but the best film he's been in recently was when he lent his voice to Tony Stark's digital butler Jarvis in Iron Man. Here his character is no better a law enforcement agent than Gunther Toody, and his obsession and reasons for doing anything to catch Pearce is never explained in any depth. Steven Berkoff as English gangster Reginald Shaw is flat and lifeless. The few instances he's given to be a more lively character go to waste, and Shaw's role in the story is mostly boring and uninspired. Other characters played by Timothy Dalton and Rufus Sewell are in the film so infrequently as to seem almost accidental, and are equally not worth mentioning. In all, there's simply not a lot to do in The Tourist if you're not it's biggest stars, and that gets old fast.

My, what a plunging neckline you have!
For an action/spy film, The Tourist has precious little of either. While the film does maintain excellent outdoor shots of Venice, some of the night or inside scenes look as if they were done on a set, most notably a mid-film shootout in the city's famous canal system. The scene is so unimpressive and overlong that you'd expect the film's other action sequences to be better, but you'd be wrong. The best is one of Depp running from gunmen across Venetian rooftops, and that was only because it took place in broad daylight and looked the most authentic, and even that's hampered by its lack of ingenuity. Elise does nothing badass that you can point at as proper for this genre. In fact, she's practically powerless over anyone who's not Frank. And speaking of Frank, his strength seems to be in running away, which he has to do on multiple occasions.So all the power in this film belongs to side characters who we care nothing about. Amazing work.

He's waiting to see how bad next year's Priest will be
It's a shame that a film that had such potential came crashing down to Earth out of the gate. The film has it's moments, but those amount to about twenty minutes of the film as opposed to 83 minutes in which the viewer  wishes it would stop. When you do the math, it's obvious this film shouldn't have been made without some serious alterations to the story. The worst thing I can say about this film is that for every reason you SHOULD like this film, there are plenty of examples of films you could see instead. Johnny Depp? Re-watching Pirates, Edward Scissorhands or Benny and Joon would help cure that craving. Von Donnersmarck? See The Lives of Others if you haven't already. Hell, if you have, see it again! Paul Bettany? Master and Commander and A Beautiful Mind have wonderful performances by him. Angelina Jolie? Take your pick: Wanted, Girl Interrupted, even Changeling are all superior titles in comparison. Even the lovely view of Venice can been seen in the vastly-superior spy film Casino Royale, even if not as well. So don't go out of your way to see The Tourist. It can be funny, and has it's moments, but not nearly enough to justify the purchase price when the market is filled with much better fare for your perusal.


Anonymous said...

Pozdrawia Ciebie z Warszawy, Syneloi.

Gianni said...

For those who don't understand Polish, I believe I've been saluted all the way from Warsaw!