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"THE TOURIST"
(2010) (Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: An American tourist is mistaken for a wanted man in Venice when an alluring woman picks him as a stand-in for that other person.
PLOT:
Scotland Yard's Financial Crime Division is after Alexander Pearce for possessing illegally gained assets, and a lot of them, but the only problem is that no one knows what he looks like anymore. As a result, Inspector John Acheson (PAUL BETTANY) has his men trailing the alluring but enigmatic Elise Ward (ANGELINA JOLIE) throughout Paris. She's a known associate and possible lover of his, and Acheson -- despite the doubts of his superior, Jones (TIMOTHY DALTON) -- is positive the beauty will lead them to their man.

She receives a note from Pearce that informs her to take a train from Paris to Venice and to pick out a man who resembles him in appearance and build, all to throw off the authorities. She does just that in Frank Tupelo (JOHNNY DEPP), an unassuming Wisconsin math teacher who's vacationing in Europe and isn't quite sure what to make of Elise when she sits down with him on the train. Not long after that, she's invited him to stay at her hotel, but the next morning, after a platonic night sleeping in separate rooms, Frank finds himself on the run from armed men.

It seems that Elise's ploy has worked as crime boss Reginald Shaw (STEVEN BERKOFF) also wants Pearce for stealing a great deal of money from him in the past, and he and his goons think Frank is him. From that point on, Frank goes on the run from them and others, all as he tries to figure out what's going on and as he and Elise keep meeting and seem to be falling for each other.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
While watching "Fair Game" recently, I was reminded of the difficulty I can only imagine Valerie Plame had as a CIA spy. That's not a remark about her expertise, capabilities or intelligence, but rather her stunning good looks (a point driven home by the casting of the equally gorgeous Naomi Watts to portray her in the film). Yes, there are pretty people of both sexes in all sorts of professions across the world, but when your goal is to be undercover, an undeniable attractiveness will likely only draw attention from others. And that sort of reaction may just tip off those you're after.

Of course, in Hollywood films about spies and others of their ilk, it's all about casting pretty faces as a means of getting average moviegoers' behinds in movie theater seats. Thus, all who've played James Bond have been ruggedly handsome, while the likes of Angelina Jolie appear in films such as "Salt." She now also stars in "The Tourist" alongside another pretty face (that belonging to Johnny Depp, despite some sick joke of a haircut that he's forced to sport) where she draws the eyes of men and women alike wherever she goes.

That includes those watching her under a surveillance order by a Scotland Yard official (Paul Bettany) who wonder if she's wearing any undies or not (while zooming in on her derriere in her formfitting dress) to a train traveling from Paris to Venice where everyone gazes at her until she settles on sitting with Depp's character. And then, near the end, she enters a ball looking like Sophie Loren and slightly sashaying like a supermodel, again causing everyone to stop, turn and follow her every move.

All of that attention serves as a distraction, not necessarily to her or those following her, but rather the viewer watching this slow-motion train wreck of a movie. After all, it's yet one element of many that's likely to draw audiences' attention away from the story (not that it's any great shakes itself) and focus that on any number of problems that bedevil the flick.

Oh, where to begin. Well, for those who hate the notion of American remakes of foreign films, we could start there as this is a revamped version of the little seen 2005 French film, "Anthony Zimmer." Beyond my general distaste of dredging up something old rather than making something new, I didn't really have any problem in that regard as I never saw or had even heard of the original pic.

I can only assume or at least hope that the original was better than this boring mess, which can really be the only explanation why Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck ("The Lives of Others") would choose this as his big American debut offering. Granted, it sort of sounds like a Hitchcock thriller like "North By Northwest" where a common man is mistaken for another and then goes on the run from those who want the latter.

Here, Depp plays that man, a Wisconsin math teacher on vacation in Venice who's picked out by Jolie's enigmatic but alluring character. She's being tailed by Bettany's hires with hopes that she'll lead them to a man known as Alexander Pearce. He's stolen a lot of moola from a dangerous criminal played by Steven Berkoff who comes off like a Russian mafia character type but reportedly is an Englishman (just like the real actor himself). We never would have guessed that nationality had a line of dialogue not told us directly, a tactic also used throughout the film to explain other things that we've already seen, heard or more obviously figured out.

Joining such unnecessary but plentiful moments -- possibly added by von Donnersmarck after he took over the script from the efforts of earlier scribes Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes -- is James Newton Howard's score that doesn't seem to stop at any point in the film. Beyond trying to remind viewers that they're watching a light caper meets romance meets thriller, the score is also annoyingly overused to drive home the point of whatever might be happening at any given moment. Yes, that occurs in other films as well, but it's so egregious here that it becomes yet another distraction.

But the biggest of all those is the fact that Jolie and Depp have zero chemistry together. Some of that's ultimately explained by the concluding plot twist, but the viewer engagement damage is long since done by the time that rolls around. A great deal of that stems from the performances from the leads. Beyond the eye candy aura, Jolie has become (at least in this flick) something of a caricature of her past performances and characteristics. There are the alluring looks and "aren't I sexy?" body posturing and attitude, but not much else. It's almost as if she's become paralyzed in her own tantalizing beauty that few other emotions can break through the surface.

But at least she fares better than Depp who may just deliver the worst performance of his big screen career. Even in his bad films, he's always managed to create interesting characters, while his wilder and more outrageous ones have made him famous. Here, he tries playing an average guy (or a version of that based on what we ultimately learn), but in doing so he robs his onscreen persona of any sort of magic to draw us in. Yes, we're supposed to be entertained by watching his unassuming character not being sure what to make of Jolie's commanding and alluring one, but even his portrayal of that feels off and artificial.

That and Jolie's near mannequin expression (something a fellow critic labeled her "Blue Steel" look -- a reference to "Zoolander") results in a chemistry combination that couldn't melt an ice cube let alone light up the entire screen and film. Throw in the fact that we've seen this sort of tired story before, and that everything (the budding romance, the rooftop and canal chases, and much more) seems to be taking place in slow motion, about the only good thing to say about the pic is that at least it's set in Venice where the architectural and natural beauty is simple and never distracting, unlike everything else in this film. "The Tourist" rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed December 8, 2010 / Posted December 10, 2010


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