Angelina Jolie dresses up in pretty pretty clothes and flounces around pretty pretty cities while Johnny Depp acts out James Bond fantasies in The Tourist, a ridiculous empty-suit of a caper movie.
Elise (Jolie) is a British woman in Paris, floating through the streets in straight-out-of-Vogue-wear and being trailed by assorted police types. Despite being told by his boss Chief Inspector Jones (Timothy Dalton) to put an end to the investigation, Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) is following Elise in hopes of learning the whereabouts of Alexander Pierce, a theft and a tax evader. It’s that last part that concerns Acheson, for reasons that make less sense as the movie goes on.
Presumably Pierce knows that Elise, his lady-love, is being watched, which is why he sends her a letter by courier, telling her to travel to Venice to meet him. Since he’s rumored to have altered his appearance, she’s supposed to pick a random passenger who fits Pierce’s general description and make it seem to whomever might be watching her that this person is Pierce. Then the real Pierce will be able to meet up with her. Elise picks as her patsy for this plan Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), an American tourist. Because Elise is Angelinaly beautiful, Frank can’t be blamed for seeing where his encounter with her takes him — first dinner on the train, then a hotel in Venice — not realizing that it’s also making him a target of a group of gangsters headed by Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). Meanwhile, a strange man (Rufus Sewell) always seems to linger on the sidelines.
If some movie studio called me up and said “We’d like to send you on an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris and Venice where you will wear haute couture and act in the world’s least challenging movie, interested?” I’d say yes too. So you really can’t blame Jolie or Depp for sliding The Tourist into their movie-making schedules, ignoring the lack of coherent story or sense-making characters. They look so good! And the work is so slight! And the clothes, my god, the clothes!
The problem with The Tourist isn’t its lack of heft. Oceans Eleven and its sequels were barely movies — they were more like happy hour at the swankest club — and I enjoyed them just fine. But for its feather-light touch to work, The Tourist needed to be smarter and more coherent. Its characters seem to be rewritten in each act. Jolie in particular starts out as a softer version of that capable Jolie spy she seems to always be playing. But then she turns ditzy — in love with Pierce but maybe falling for Frank, a guy she’s known for six minutes. The movie seems to want that loose feel but it comes off more as lazy.
Lazy too are the twists and turns of the plot, handled chunkily. You don’t get that sense of cleverness when the layers within layers are revealed. It just seems half-assed, as though decided at the last minute, after a day of lounging by the canal drinking Campari cocktails.
The Tourist is like looking a lovely slideshow of someone else’s romantic vacation — how nice for them, how boring for us.
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and written by Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes (from a movie by Jerome Salle), The Tourist is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.