Monday, December 13, 2010

637 - The Tourist review

“The Tourist” is another example of the increasingly apparent limitations of star power. Take its two leads, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. You’d have to leave the first world, possibly even the second, in order to find a person unfamiliar with either. Their They’re both talented and pleasing to the eye, with enough clout to pick projects from ranging tiny indies to massive blockbusters, though their involvement alone prohibits any film from being too small. So now here they are, headlining a sort of Euro-thriller set in beautiful Venice. But if the grosses are to be believed, few want to see it. Why?

Well, the term “Euro-thriller” might be a clue. By this I mean a slow-paced, chatty film, where there’s lots of fancy hotels and uptight police officers and nothing particularly interesting ever happens. Sure, it’d be exciting if it were happening to you, but audiences have standards. We’ve been enthralled by movies before and look to replicate that feeling like a drug.

We like to watch Depp and Jolie and stars like them, or at least I do. But they need to pop off the screen; we want to see them in extraordinary action scenes, surprising us with uproariously funny jokes, tugging at the heartstrings with moments of intense personal discovery. Here, even though a vast fortune and several lives are at stake, there’s no romantic tension, the plot moving forward with the suspense of a Harlem Globe Trotters game.

Jolie’s character, a British agent named Elise, could have been as ably played by any number of gorgeous actresses. Few, if any, would have the potential drawing power Jolie does, but the role’s surprisingly limp, supplying her with a series of banal tasks largely designed to support the male protagonist. This is Frank, played by Depp as if he were receiving alternating directions on whether or not to play it lightly. Frank, who would be an ordinary tourist if he didn’t look just like Johnny Depp, is picked up by Elise on a train, dragging him into a cat and mouse game involving lots of stern European men in suits. “I teach math,” he says, pretty much all the information we get about him, presumably because the writers think math teachers must generally be nebbish twerps incapable of standing up for themselves.

Thus the plot’s in motion, which takes the characters on a chase through Venice in a search for that fortune. Frank learns to be a man despite being in the second half of his life ala Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” and Elise gets to float from scene to scene, existing to help move along the plot when necessary. On a couple of occasions Depp and Jolie have dialogue that hints at the potential of the minimum chemistry required for a film like this to work, but they disappear just as quickly, returning to dialogue that sees her deliver thankless lines like a pro, while he pretends to know what it’s like to be a man who doesn’t know how to handle a stunning woman. It moves along well enough, but why do I get the feeling that Depp and Jolie’s love lives are much more interesting in a tabloid than in this movie, which purports to be an electrifying thriller?

2 out of 5

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