Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
It’s a set-up that John Woo would probably appreciate. There is a master criminal on the loose, hidden behind a face unknown, from plastic surgery paid for by ill-gotten gains.
His estranged lover, a femme fatale woman of mystery, deftly eludes the ever-watching authorities, wise to their ways and poised in her movements. His hand-written notes are delivered to her by unwitting couriers, and she takes her cue from him.
Her latest mission is to evade the authorities by selecting a straw man, an unsuspecting decoy with which to throw off the scent, so that criminal and lover can reunite and escape. Also hot on the heels: the ruthless gangster from whom the fugitive stole billions.
The dramatic tension lies in who the enigmatic criminal on the run, by the name of Alexander Pearce, actually is, and whether his lover Elise (Angelina Jolie) will fall for the dummy she had selected (Johnny Depp) based on his physical similarities to Pearce.
We, the audience, are also to care if meek math teacher Frank Tupelo (Depp) will be able to survive the sudden rash of threats on his life and win his new lady love, the woman who engages him in conversation and veiled seduction on a train and at its destination: Venice.
The John Woo version of this, hypothetically, would have a lot more action, with Tupelo revealing some form of prowess with weaponry; here, however, Tupelo is played for laughs, another iteration of what’s becoming Depp’s trademark semi-doped-out, quirky persona.
As it is, The Tourist, a remake of the 2005 French romantic thriller Anthony Zimmer, has grand aspirations, but ends up being not particularly funny, suspenseful or emotionally involving.
It takes what is, on paper, a dream pairing and demonstrates a classic case of chemistry lacking; this picture-perfect romantic liaison is about as authentic as tourist souvenir pap.
The requisite action is also far from satisfying. For the most part, the jokes are made at the expense of the British-led Interpol surveillance effort; many a time, Elise leaves pursuing agents – among them Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton – grasping thin air as she slips through their fingers, or catches them in the act of observing her.
The one redeeming feature of this film, which benefits from the tourist-aesthetic charm of Venice, is the presence of the sinister ‘bad guy’ of the piece, the grizzled old gangster played by Brit veteran Steven Berkoff.
Whenever Berkoff is on the screen, whether threatening his Russian goon squad or promising harm to Frank and Elise, the interest factor rises. He has a way with his words and his sneer.
The contrary is true when it is just Frank and Elise, whose dialogue, not helped by both actors’ ponderous delivery, is insufficient to engender a strong emotional connection, to each other or with the audience.
The film on the whole, ultimately a disappointing follow-up for German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others, 2007), is fairly pedestrian and predictable, and its revelations are often seen coming from miles away, with little panache.
Depp’s attempts at little personality traits, such as his character’s hapless penchant for sprinkling Spanish phrases upon Italian people, and nebbish gallantry, for once barely raise a grin. On the flip side, Jolie is glamorous but cold, such that her major dilemma seems inconsequential.
It comes as no real surprise to learn in time that Frank and Elise are not quite who they appear to be from the start. The problem after the final hand is dealt is that the biggest joke, it seems, is on the audience, and we have genuine claim to feel cheated by the endgame.
At least if John Woo had made this, there might have been a lot more gun-play and genuine thrills. As it is, one leaves this film with few mementos of note besides the feeling of egg on one’s face.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.