Tourist Class

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Johnny Depp, my favorite actor to rave about, and Angelina Jolie, my favorite actress to rage against, together in the same film — how could I resist The Tourist? Despite its poor critical reviews, I had to see the film for myself.

The Tourist is an old-school spy thriller in the style of Alfred Hitchcock. Two strangers meet on a train. One is the cool and beautiful spy, Elise Clinton-Ward (Jolie). The other is Frank Tupelo (Depp), a hapless math teacher vacationing in Venice. Treasury agents are on the train, hoping she will lead them to her boyfriend, the mysterious Alexander. Elise needs to find a patsy to throw them off the trail. Frank fits the bill, and the game of cat-and-mouse begins. Add an international crime boss (Steven Berkoff) intent on regaining the money Alexander has stolen from him — a crime boss who also believes that Frank is Alexander — and the big dogs enter the chase.

Film buffs will recognize obvious allusions to Hitchcock's North by Northwest, including the famous cut to the overhead shot of the train barreling through the tunnel as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint discretely make love. The film is sprinkled with allusions to several other iconic films as well, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones. These allusions are subtle and fun, good for a knowing chuckle without becoming campy or distracting.

The Tourist is also blessed with a witty script, written by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Christopher McQuarrie. It contains several rapid-fire verbal exchanges worthy of a Word Watch column by Liberty's own Stephen Cox. One, involving the words "ravenous" and "ravishing," is hilarious, mainly because of Frank's deadpan sincerity. His continued use of Spanish tourist phrases as he tries to communicate with Italian hoteliers and policemen is equally humorous (and realistic). The plot itself has enough turns and twists to satisfy an audience of thrill seekers, and it keeps us guessing until the end. The supporting cast is fine too, especially Paul Bettany as the Treasury Inspector Acheson and Timothy Dalton as Inspector Jones.

So why is The Tourist being panned by most critics? There is that unfortunate casting decision — the selection of Angelina Jolie as the femme fatale. Even director Donnersmarck was unhappy with her selection, and left the project for a while after she was cast. Jolie is simply too cold and hard to play the role convincingly. Yes, Eva Marie Saint was cool and distant in North by Northwest, and it worked brilliantly. But she was a more versatile actress, and she played the role of Eve Kendall with intelligence and reserve. Her costumes — mostly smart suits topped by a sophisticated beehive hairstyle — emphasized a cool restraint that hinted at a hot passion simmering beneath the surface. The result was completely believable, and the scenes between Grant and Saint fairly sizzled with repressed desire.

Jolie, however, is the unwitting poster child for the age-old question: is it possible to be too rich or too thin? The answer, it seems, is Yes. She makes unintentional comedy as she tries, with her pencil-thin legs, to sashay down the street or through a room in a flowing silk dress while swaying her hips a la Marilyn Monroe. The trouble is, she has no hips to sway. To compensate for this problem, the costume designer added long ribbons to the back of each dress, apparently so there would be something to bounce. Nevertheless, the film contains several long scenes of heads turning as Elise skims through a restaurant, casino, or hotel lobby. One wonders, at times, whether this is a spy film or a perfume commercial.

There are some problems about Depp as well. His trademark quirkiness is intact, especially when he is running from the mobsters who think they are chasing Alexander. But his character’s ragged, cheek-length hairstyle emphasizes the fact that his face has rounded out with age, making him more reminiscent of an angsty Billy Crystal than the dashing Captain Jack Sparrow or debonair John Dillinger whom Depp has played in recent years. This may be good for his character as the timid and confused mathematics teacher, but not so good for viewers who look forward to seeing Depp's dashing good looks.

Several editing goofs also mar the film. For example, at one point Elise receives a hotel key inside a note card. When she uses the key, it has a thick red tassel attached, but when she received it, there was no tassel. Are we supposed to believe that she has spent the intervening moments shopping for a tassel and attaching it? Even more glaring is a mistake that happens when she drives a boat to take Frank to the airport. (This is in Venice, remember.) She is wearing a white sweater and dark slacks when she drops him off, but she has somehow changed into a gray knit dress when she drives away. Mistakes like this are very distracting, especially in a mystery thriller, where viewers are always on the lookout for clues.

The Tourist is an okay film, but it's a disappointment because it had the potential to be a great film. It will be worth watching on a long flight or when it comes to Showtime on TV, but it's unfortunately not worth the price of popcorn and admission.


Editor's Note: Review of "The Tourist," directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Spyglass Entertainment, 2010, 103 minutes.



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