The Tourist
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 10, 2010
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 9, 2010
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The Tourist is the rarest of modern diversions: pure, unadulturated fluff. The need for either mythos (in the case of franchises) or legitimacy tends to cloud today's action-adventures, and thus, we are left with too few films that recall the simple joy of meeting some characters we wouldn't mind spending a couple of hours with, but don't need to remember for a lifetime. Trailers made the film look like a tired mistaken identity thriller that eventually builds into a larger conspiracy, but the film has more relaxing things like chemistry on its mind. With such a lightweight agenda, two game mega-stars and a more-than-competent imported director, The Tourist makes for a likable breeze, although, perhaps, maybe one more suited for premium cable than a trip to the crowded, expensive theater.

Angelina Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, a classy woman of expensive tastes who slinks around to cafes in fancy dresses, while the police watch intently. The fuzz are hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Alexander Pierce, a former banker who made off with $744 million in gangster cash and left behind only Elise. One day, a courier drops off a letter from Pierce, instructing her to board a train to Venice, pick a passenger "my height and build", and "make them believe it's me." After a few clever maneuvers to get the cops off her tail, she's on the train, looking for the first guy who looks likely to fall under her spell -- in this case, a math teacher named Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp).

The best trick The Tourist pulls (the only one, even) is to give Depp his first role since the original Pirates of the Caribbean in which his usual off-balance shtick is a benefit rather than an overly-calculated annoyance in the hands of the screenwriter. Free of the irritating whimsy of modern Burton roles, Depp gets big mileage out of Frank the average schlub, whose charisma is more accidental than winkingly intentional. Frank reacts rather than motivates, and the hapless act works well against the straight-faced Elise, who plays Frank like a yo-yo for more than a third of the movie. When Frank touches Elise's bedroom doorknob after she grants him a surprise kiss (framed eloquently between across two balconies), the audience instinctively roots for him to open the door, a nice bit of sympathy that'd be invalidated by his usual suave-man act. Jolie, with her plasticine skin and bony frame (a distant shadow of the woman a younger me bought the Tomb Raider posters for), is mostly flat, but Depp picks up enough slack to make the film work.

The other factor in The Tourist's favor is Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The advertising paints a picture that cuts to the chase, but Donnersmarck has patience and an interest in his characters, taking the time to develop the pair's chemistry together rather than focus on the grinding mechanisms of the plot. One of the earliest, most relieving moments maneuvers the whole film away from "wrong man" meandering and off in a different direction than expected, forgoing opportunities for more shootouts or foot chases that a lesser film would've lapped right up. When there is a little action, Donnersmarck does adequately, but it's very limited in scope, and the film's supposedly ruthless villain (played by a red-faced Steven Berkoff) barely registers as a threat.

With an assist from a frustrated Paul Bettany and a brief appearance by Timothy Dalton (whose gruff presence is always appreciated), The Tourist builds up enough collective goodwill for me to laugh with the movie through the film's ludicrous ending rather than at it. Like The International before it, Sony's worked a little surprise magic, taking a throwaway B-grade potboiler and marrying it to a foreign director with enough natural style to elevate it beyond its middling potential. Pretty as a picture, lightly funny, and modestly adventurous, the film would probably fall apart if you blew on it too hard, but it's fun enough while it lasts; as they say, you wouldn't want to live there, but it's a nice place to visit.

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