‘The Tourist’: Escape while you can

December 9, 2010

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck burst on to the scene with the Oscar-winning German film, “The Lives of Others,” as gripping and disciplined a story as I’ve seen in a long time.


Now von Donnersmarck has gone Hollywood – and I can’t wait for him to go back to Germany. All the attributes that made “Lives of Others” so compelling are absent in what obviously is a studio-manufactured piece of entertainment that is never as exciting, as sexy or as witty as somebody apparently thinks. You feel for the guy, because this is a movie that smacks of late-term interference – or, at a minimum, too many story conferences and overthinking the development.


A remake of a 2005 French film, “The Tourist” stars Angelina Jolie as Elise, first seen setting fire to a secretive note in a Paris café, then eluding Scotland Yard operatives. She is, it turns out, the lover of the disappeared criminal money launderer Alexander Pierce – who reportedly has had millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery to give himself a new appearance that’s a big secret.


So Scotland Yard is following Elise, in hopes she’ll lead them to Pierce. Pierce, apparently, has stolen close to a billion dollars from a gangster named Shaw (Steven Berkoff), who is also hunting him.


Scotland Yard’s main operative, Acheson (Paul Bettany), tracks Elise to a train from Paris to Venice. On the train, she connects with an American tourist, Frank Tupelo, played by Johnny Depp on an extended bad hair day. He is roughly the same build and height as Pierce – which is why she picks him up.


Frank, a math teacher from Wisconsin, is on vacation, escaping from a broken heart. So of course he’s dazzled when a gorgeous number like Elise suddenly chats him up, has dinner with him, takes him to her lavish hotel suite in Venice – even if she doesn’t actually sleep with him.


It all turns into a faux Hitchcock caper when first Scotland Yard, then Shaw and his henchmen, mistake Frank for Pierce. He’s chased, shot at, arrested, rescued and re-rescued. And the audience is supposed to tag along for what is obviously meant to be a thrill ride but which does little to make the heart race, either in terms of suspense or romance.


Yes, Jolie is beautiful and easy to look at. On the other hand, it’s always hard to watch someone of her talents wasted on something as dull-witted and formulaic as this. It’s also a challenge to watch her throw herself at Depp, who sports a hairdo worse than the one with which Javier Bardem was saddled in “No Country for Old Men.” And that’s not mentioning the fact that he looks surprisingly potato-faced here.


“The Tourist” is more like steerage than coach, a tarted-up piece of product that’s flat and witless. Hopefully, von Donnersmarck will go back to making his own films and put Hollywood in his rearview mirror.


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