Films like The Tourist are very difficult to pull off. It's a romantic caper, a film about people who are not the people they claim to be, and a film imbued with all of the glamour and fantasy of the movies. To make a movie such as this work, you need a director with the sense of wit and timing of a Lubitsch, Wilder or Sturges, and God knows that filmmakers of that nature are in short supply these days. Still, it's hard to know what the producers behind this picture saw in The Lives of Others that led them to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The director of that Oscar-winning drama seems utterly unsuited to such a light confection, and his heavy-handed direction of the absurd screenplay kills the entire project stone dead. We want to watch The Tourist and feel like we're walking on air; instead it feels like we're wading through treacle.
The film – adapted from the French film Anthony Zimmer and scripted by the incongruous trio of Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes and von Donnersmarck himself – opens in Paris with Elise (Angelina Jolie) being trailed by the police. They're not after her, they're after her lover, the mysterious criminal Alexander Pearce, who has swindled millions of dollars and is subject to an international hunt being coordinated from Scotland Yard by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany). To throw her pursuers off the scent, Elise picks up a random man on a train to Venice and passes him off as Pearce, that random man being Frank (Johnny Depp), an American maths teacher on holiday. What follows doesn't make a great deal of sense, but that's not the biggest crime for a movie like this; the biggest crime is how staggeringly boring it all is.
A plot this silly needs to be played at a lively pace in order to keep us involved, which is where von Donnersmarck's handling of the film immediately falls down. The film feels sluggish throughout, with the ineptly edited chase sequences failing to inject any momentum into the picture, and while Jolie and Depp work hard (she's actually very good, he's miscast) they can't do anything with such weak characters. There are interesting actors populating similarly underdeveloped parts all the way down the cast list – Steven Berkoff as a gangster, Timothy Dalton as a police chief, Rufus Sewell as something or other – but the plot holding them together is a total mess. The Tourist collapses entirely in its last twenty minutes with a plot twist that makes no sense on any level. It only invalidates everything we have been watching up to that point, and makes us realises that the movie has simply been a total waste of our time.
The oddly American-sounding Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck provides an entertaining commentary track, in which he highlights plenty of minor details and references numerous other films and filmmakers. He is full of praise for his cast and crew; he even comments on the beauty of Johnny Depp's feet, although his constant references to Jolie's attractiveness do get a little silly in places (he describes one shot of her as "the pinnacle of female beauty" and "his gift to the world"). However, von Donnersmarck is refreshingly candid about a few scenes and shots that he feels he should have cut or re-done, and his revelation of the film's rushed production schedule may explain why the film feels so thrown together. Elsewhere on the disc, there are interviews with the director and a number of short behind-the-scenes features, in which everyone talks about the pleasure of working in Venice. There's also 85 seconds worth of outtakes, which is mainly shots of people giggling and isn't particularly funny.
The Tourist is released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 25th.
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