The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Tourist

You expect a lot of things from a movie starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Extreme boredom is not one of them, yet that's exactly what I got from The Tourist, a flaccid thriller that belongs on the list of the biggest missed opportunities in recent memory. So many things are so wrong that I grew weary waiting for it to be over.

Depp plays Frank Tupalo, an American math teacher on vacation in Venice. On the train ride there, he meets Elise (Jolie), a seductive mystery woman from Britain to whom he is both attracted and intimidated by. She seems to like him too, or at least that's what her incessant flirting suggests. They spend some time together in Venice, with Frank gradually coming out of his shell. What he doesn't initially know is that she is trotting the globe to get back to her lover, who stole millions of dollars from a gangster, refused to pay taxes to the British government, and is now on the run. Her interest in Frank is initially fake - an attempt to throw the gangster (Steven Berkoff) and a Scotland Yard agent (Paul Bettany) off the track by making them think her lover has had extensive plastic surgery to avoid capture. Soon Frank finds himself in a case of mistaken identity, with a lot of people hunting him down for things he didn't do. And Elise starts to wonder if perhaps she really is falling for this guy.

The Tourist wants to be one of those romantic thrillers set against the backdrop of a beautiful foreign city. Movies of this stripe survive on the intensity of the chemistry between their leads. I don't know what the opposite of chemistry is, but whatever it is, that's what Depp and Jolie have. The two stars don't elicit a single spark. Since the whole movie is predicated upon the idea that Frank and Elise are increasingly attracted to each other, you can imagine how flat it falls. Chemistry is a funny thing. Actors who have it draw something unexpected out of each other, and that new vibe is what audiences respond to. Depp and Jolie draw nothing from one another. I don't know about the making of the film, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they didn't like each other. There's an odd hesitancy among them to try to connect or play. (And when was the last time Depp seemed like he didn't want to play on screen?)

This being a thriller, there are, of course, the requisite plot twists, and these twists are the very things that do the most damage. The Tourist tries to pull the rug out from under you twice. One of the big twists doesn't work because the characters and their motivations are so sloppily set up that we don't feel the impact. Sometimes filmmakers wait until halfway through a movie to tell you important things about the characters. That's always a gamble, because if the audience doesn't know who they're following, there's not much reason for them to care later in the game. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) makes that mistake of withholding too much for too long. He robs the twist of any meaning.

The second big twist is even worse. It simply does not make sense - or, if it does, the director and his screenwriters didn't make it clear. Sitting in my theater seat, I could think of all kinds of reasons why this big reveal simply wasn't logical, and why it essentially insults the audience's intelligence. When a film sends people away feeling pissed off, it doesn't bode well for positive word-of-mouth.

There is one scene in The Tourist that works really well, and that's a chase down a Venice canal in which Elise, in one boat, tows Frank, who is handcuffed in a second one, while the mobster's goons pursue them. It's cleverly staged and fun - qualities that the rest of the movie completely lack. Fraudulent where it should be smart, impotent where it should be sexy, and dull where it should be exciting, The Tourist is a big star misfire of epic proportions.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Tourist is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.