Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Tourist

For as much star power as The Tourist has, you might expect something that could go one of two ways. On one hand, you could get a drama so intense that the Academy Board would simply show up at the movie premier and grudgingly hand the cast and crew a box full of Oscars. On the other hand you might have a film that is simply a fun time for the actors, and is possibly an excuse for them to work together with perhaps a trip to somewhere exotic thrown in. The Tourist is most definitely while Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie both turn in decent performances with what they are given to work with, the characters become slaves to a plot, which often has them act in bizarre and contradictory ways.

Directed and co-written by the most impressively named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Writer and director of the German film Lives of Others, the 2007 Oscar winner for best foreign film), The Tourist represents the first English language film for Donnersmarck. While Donnersmarck definitely has an eye for beauty, his pacing and dialogue skills need serious work.

We begin in the beautiful city of Paris, with the most beautiful Angelina Jolie. She is so aristocratic here that she fairly glides across the screen – and she is under heavy surveillance by the Parisian police. Under the oversight of Scotland Yard (with Paul Bettany in charge of the case), they are hoping she will lead them to her lover, who is involved in some sort of major, epic financial crime.

As the film begins, it seems like we might be in for a decent ride – a game of cat and mouse between her, the unseen lover and the police. She receives a note at a cafe with instructions on what to do and where to go in order to evade those who are following her – and it doesn’t take long for the advice to prove accurate. The plan as dictated to her, is to find someone of similar build to him in order to have the authorities believe it's him. They don’t know what he looks like because he’s stolen over $2 billion and the assumption is that he’s had extensive reconstructive surgery in order to hide from the police – and the British mob boss from whom he stole the money.

Of course she decides to select Johnny Depp as her “victim” – he plays a Wisconsin math teacher, and he does it quite well. Following a string of so many… stylized roles, it was actually impressive to watch Depp play a “regular joe.” He is somewhat shy and taken aback by Jolie’s beauty. Just as we think she is done with him, she decides to string him along further – or is she somehow intrigued by this simple little man?

The police soon realize that Frank is a patsy, but an English gangster named Shaw (Steven Berkoff) is led to believe that Frank is in fact Pearce, post-plastic surgery. Pearce stole over $2 billion from Shaw–which he wants back–and from which Interpol wants the taxes off—$774 million pounds. Once in Venice, Elise easily convinces Frank into staying with her, where they kiss, setting off a series of events revolving around Frank’s mistaken identity, while Elise hunts for the real Pearce, all the while attempting to stay one step ahead of Interpol.

Despite it all, Elise and Frank begin to fall for each other, but the mysterious and unseen Pearce continues to pull Elise’s strings, Interpol remains on the hunt, and Shaw is willing to kill to retrieve his money.

As a matter of course he ends up in harm’s way – being chased by both the Italian police (they’re now in Venice), the mob gangster’s thugs and Scotland Yard. Believe me when I tell you that in this film, it is definitely not as exciting as it sounds.

The plot is a mix of two old classics, the “mistaken identity” and “the action romance” films. While the actual story is based on a 2005 French film that most haven’t watched, you will feel like you have seen this movie several times before. Just this year in fact, Knight and DayKillers, and a few others all tread over similar ground. The only real twist is that the female lead is the action oriented one, while the male role is the one in constant jeopardy.

The hunt for Pearce is also so easy to poke holes into that it borders on painful. To give you an idea, the police were on to Pearce for over a year before he disappeared. The story suggests that this is two years later, which contradicts other established timelines, and would mean that the operation against Pearce began three years earlier, despite the fact that he had not actually committed the big crime they were specifically hunting him for. Or they knew where he was for a year after the crime, and were too busy to actually capture him. In that time, neither Interpol nor the London police could find a single picture of him. Even though they were onto him for over three years, and even though every piece of logic suggests that they might have found an old pic somewhere. And during all that time, Interpol, in all its wisdom, decided to begin a million dollar manhunt for a guy that had stolen a mobster’s money, while seemingly being ok with the mobster himself. This also does not seem to factor in the ridiculousness of taxing stolen money.

If you think too hard about the plot, it will make your head hurt. You sort of expect a tongue in cheek plot with action romances like this, but most of the problems are so big that they are hard to miss, and most of them could have been corrected with either another look at the script, or a better continuity editor.

There are several other similar problems, and all of which seem to be either an oversight, or explained in a version of the film that never made it past the cutting room floor.

This whole concoction is so lightweight it could be used to inflate blimps, and while it does feature good-looking people against a good looking backdrop doing supposedly exciting things, it becomes increasingly obvious that the film-makers (including director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who’s previous film was the European arthouse hit The Lives of Others, making this one bizarre career turn) forgot to give us a reason to care about anything these glamourous people do or say. 

Oddly, Berkoff turns out to save the day here, playing a nasty, brutal killer who seemingly wandered over from some trashy direct-to-DVD Guy Ritchie knock-off. Sure, we’ve all seen henchmen get strangled for incompetence before but he does it with such glee it’s hard not to be a little unnerved by it, especially as up until now the only question of interest in this totally forgettable film has been whether there was going to be another massive close-up of Jolie’s arse.

The best part of this film is that it is filmed in Venice, and the city looks beautiful. In fact, the entire movie is filmed exceptionally well, and there is a crisp and vibrant feel that almost covers up the lack of chemistry between Depp and Jolie, the massive plot holes and the inconsistent characterizations.

If you can overlook all of that, and if you accept from the start that the plot is not meant to be taken too seriously, then you are left with a film that is fun, albeit forgettable.


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