What was the last Johnny Depp movie that got you really excited? Or Angelina Jolie for that matter? With Ol’ John there’s a glimmer of hope coming in the form of the Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary. Certainly Depp recalling his Gonzo in any way is good news for us. Other than that, it’s just a new trio of Pirates movies, yet another Tim Burton thing, and rumors regarding Kathryn Bigelow’s next flick. Things are even bleaker for Angie, with a reprisal of her Kung Fu Panda Tigress on the horizon, and little else. My point here isn’t so much to rip into these actors’ future endeavors as it is to call attention to the strange turn their careers have taken. Towards the beginning of their respective careers, Deep and Jolie both built their legacies on talent. They may have started out as beautiful faces, but with roles in films like Gia and Girl, Interrupted, Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? they cemented respect from a critical audience. And now it’s come to this. The Tourist. Boringly predictable and occasionally incoherent, The Tourist gives Jolie and Depp the opportunity to spend some time in Venice, dress in overly elegant clothes, and be some mildly different version of their publicly banal selves.
Trying to recount the plot of this film is a bit like trying to swallow a mouthful of peanut butter without any milk. The jist involves Elise Ward (Jolie) and her extended affair with a man named Alexander Pierce. Pierce is an international thief being pursued by both Scotland Yard and their persistent Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany), and an evil billionaire named Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) from whom Pierce thieved over two billion dollars. With slyly placed notes, Pierce points Elise towards Venice, instructing her to, along the way, find a man of similar size and build to act as his double and throw their pursuers off the scent. This man is Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin who is supposed to seem square, but ends up feeling only slightly less hip than his absurdly boujie surroundings. Frank and Elise dance away from danger and towards each other, and writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck ends up following his Oscar-nominated The Lives of Others with a film he can refer to forever as “without a doubt, the most forgettable thing I ever did.“
A major dilemma of The Tourist is its utter lack of identity. Wikipedia describes it as a “thriller,” with IMDb adding “action” and “drama” to that descriptor. Ultimately it’s none of those things, with nothing thrilling or active or dramatic ever really happening. Donnersmarck seems to be under the impression that by simply injecting moments like Frank’s barefoot run across a Venician roof and Elise’s daring boat rescue at 12MPH, this thing becomes an action film, or that gunshots and knife-brandishing do a thriller make. And the worst part is, that for all these pitiful attempts at setting tone, the most conspicuous tonal element is the film’s cloylingly light-hearted soundtrack. It’s as though they couldn’t get the composer they wanted, and ended up grabbing the romantic comedy scorer from down the hall.
Often in cases where a film seems to suffer from a director’s muddled approach, I like to try and take the blame away from the actors, as they are often doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. Not here. Depp and Jolie front an all-star cast where nobody does anything to get your blood-flowing. Angelina Jolie epitomizes elegant sex without having any real personality to speak of. More than once she walks down a corridor of men who can’t take their eyes off of her, but the idea that there’s anything more to her is only a suggestion. As for Johnny Depp, he’s trying to play a character defined by his, for lack of a better term, Americanism. In Venice, being an American tourist is about as far from the culture as one can get, and while Depp’s attempts to distinguish this character occasionally force a chuckle, he mostly comes off as too intense to have any real fun. To put another spin on this: imagine hanging out on set with two actors like Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Is there anyway you can see that being fun? That’s an approximation of their frigid chemistry.
While I ended up feeling sort of offended by The Tourist‘s badness, I could have just as easily walked out of the film entirely indifferent. Though the third act holds a twist that, at the very least, makes you think back on the film once it’s over, it hardly saves it from itself. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (And how about this guy’s name?) somehow landed two marquee names, which brought about a whole second round of legitimate talent (Bettany, Berkoff, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell) then couldn’t figure out what the hell to do with it, and that’s simply maddening. So many smart people with good ideas are killing themselves for a shot, and this guy just threw one straight into the dirt. After The Lives of Others I was excited to see a follow-up, but four years later it looks like Donnersmarck might be a one hit wonder. As for Depp and Jolie, it would be interesting to hear what they think of The Tourist. If they were being honest, I’m sure at the end of the day it came down to the money and the time in Venice. Glancing at their respective IMDbs’, it sort of seems like that might be all they’re really worried about anymore.