By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist December 9, 2010 at 3:35AM
From the very first shot of the film, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck makes it evident that "The Tourist" will attempt to be flashy, frothy entertainment. An impeccably dressed police captain climbs into the back of a van with three more impeccably dressed officers, bringing them a tray of espresso, in some pretty fabulous looking takeout cups (no grimy We Are Happy To Serve You style cups for these guys). It's a minor detail, but the scene is indicative of the film as a whole. More often choosing fabulous locations, set design and attire over realism, charm or originality, "The Tourist" mostly feels like walking through a very expensive store where you can't buy or touch anything and that distance keeps the film from ever truly taking off.
A remake of the french film "Anthony Zimmer," the project went through multiple directors, including Donnersmarck who left and came back, and the film's overall flatness and inability to find a tone seems to be evidence of too many cooks in the kitchen and a studio wanting a broadly appealing, edgeless piece of pop entertainment. With a script -- credited to Donnersmarck, Julian Fellowes and Christopher McQuarrie -- not doing anybody any favors, the director is really left to rely on the luminosity from stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie to carry the picture, but there is only so much they can do.
The film attempts to kick off with a set piece, and after the cops receive the cute cups of morning caffeine, their carefully coiffed hair and expensive suits turn to the bank of monitors in the back of the van as they track the movement of Elise (Jolie). But the French cops, like every other figure of authority in the picture, are apparently complete morons so there is no real tension to the sequence. Their idea of surveillance is to literally drive slowly, no more than half a block (if that) in a giant vehicle behind Elise, who looking dressed a formal dinner, is actually going to the local café. Oh wait, maybe their ineptitude is supposed to be humorous? It's hard to tell. The hard-to-ignore score by James Newton Howard seems better suited to a thriller but Donnersmarck seems to be shooting something else entirely.
Anyway, a bike courier arrives and hands Elise an envelope. This is a big event. So the French fuzz call in Scotland Yard dick Acheson (Paul Bettany) another bumbling copper (incompetence knows no national borders) who is the one who is actually chasing Elise. You see, she's the key to finding Alexander Pearce, her lover and a thief who stole money from a gangster and owes taxes in England which leads to some questions: Is stolen gang money taxable in the UK? Are they really making it the motivation of international cops to find someone who committed tax fraud? Anyway, she reads the note, and the audience learns she needs to get on a train headed to Venice and a find someone who looks similar to Pearce to throw the cops off his trail. That dope is none other than Frank Tupelo (Depp).
The first meeting between Elise and Frank marks the only moment when Jolie and Depp truly spark and shimmer in the film. The scene -- a part of which was released online in advance of the film -- is a lovely little tête-à-tête between two characters sizing each other up for size. Depp in particular is good here and while some early reviews are dismayed by just how far he underplays the role, we think it works really well. Depp is total understatement and below the surface humor for the entirety of the picture and while it seems better suited to a version of the film that wasn't made, he's the only one in "The Tourist" who isn't either encased or out-shined by the film's lavish surroundings. At any rate, once Frank is set up as the sap, and misidentified by Acheson who is under pressure from his boss Jones (a wasted Timothy Dalton) to find Pearce, the chase is on.
With both cops and vengeful Russian gangsters (we won't bore you with the details) now on his tail, a number of cliché action pieces are set up which would be forgivable if they weren't shot so astonishingly badly. There is a rooftop chase that finds Donnersmarck thoroughly lost in trying to cut between the various camera angles he has going, that at one point it seems Depp is running in place. Another chase through the canals of Venice switches obviously and awkwardly from location to studio work cutting between boats zipping between buildings and people splashing around in a tub of water. And as if giving up hope entirely, the film will occasionally resort to Benny Hill style antics with the most egregious example being a diminutive, mustachioed Italian street cop who is accidentally pushed into the water landing with a big splash! What fun!
By the time "The Tourist" lurches into its second half, the eventual twist is so obvious that it's just a waiting game to watch it play out, but there is nothing really of interest to hold on to. If you want to make a game of it, you could watch the film and guess how much money was spent in each scene because even if it isn't actually the most expensive movie made this year, by God, it surely looks it. It would be nauseating if it weren't so unintentionally hilarious. We nearly broke into laughter when Elise checks into a her five-star hotel in Venice, opens her closet only to bathed in the golden glow from the light within and flush with pleasure as her on-the-lam lover Pearce, has left her a sturdy wardrobe of dresses that look like they each cost more than we've ever made in a year. If there is a recession going on, it's certainly not affecting the makers of this film. In nearly every scene Jolie looks like she might just tip over from the weight of the jewelry alone that she's wearing. To be sure, the "Sex And The City" crowd are going to faint over Jolie in this one. Eat your heart out Carrie Bradshaw.
It was clear for a while that "The Tourist" was being positioned not as an Oscar picture, but as a holiday season diversion and we had high hopes that with the likable Depp, the wattage of Jolie and the promise of "The Lives Of Others" helmer Donnersmarck, that perhaps a Hitchockian escape would be in order. If only. Tedious and lazy, "The Tourist" finds its two stars forever struggling to find a chemistry while the film searches for a tone. A broad comedy? A romantic spy story? An international thriller? It's all and none of these at the same time, a genre mishmash that delivers tepid results. We suggest you leave your passport at home. [C-]