There’s a stereotype about the English, which is incidentally entirely true, that if they set off to have a day out, no matter what disasters befall them (usually involving torrents of rain) they will persevere at all costs rather than return home defeated. The Tourist is like one of those days. It sets out its stall as a breezy crime thriller with two of Hollywood’s biggest names bouncing romantic banter and sexy glances off each other, but it doesn’t take long before the cheerful skies are blotted with clouds and the rain starts to fall. Never before has a film put such a huge amount of effort into trying to appear effortless and failed at every turn. You can almost hear the joints of this mechanical operation buckling as yet another inane quip is forced through the mouths of its two struggling stars, who valiantly battle to salvage even a slither of chemistry between them during these gruesomely contrived exchanges that are batted back and forth with an insouciance so violent the film’s main conflict becomes a race to see who can reach the end without suffering a nonchalance-induced heart attack.
On a completely unrelated note, the film was directed by a German. You know, just saying.
The Tourist would really, really like to be Charade, the 1963 caper starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It gathers together all the pieces that made the film a success, two lusted-after stars at the height of their fame, a throwaway plot, a glamourous location and all the latest fashions, yet forgets that just because you have a cushion, a back board and four wooden legs doesn’t mean you’ve got a chair to sit on. For one thing, all the parts need to fit and The Tourist is perpetually pushing round pegs into square holes. It tries to pitch the tone somewhere between lightweight action and straight-faced comedy, yet veers between the two with little grace or success at either. The so-called humour barely registers, while the action is shot lackadaisically and neither feels convincingly perilous or exciting. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, whose name is about the sole scrap of joy to be found in this arduous exercise, even manages to make Venice look dull.
The relationship between Depp and Jolie’s characters fares no better. (They have names, but that’s rather missing the point). It’s supposed to have a naturally sexy flow, yet the dialogue is so half-hearted and ill-thought out, with apparent set-ups not leading to any sort of punchline (Depp smokes an electric cigarette and… that’s it) that it has all the graceful frisson of two tectonic plates rubbing together. A strong support cast, counting Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton and a painfully miscast Steven Berkoff in its ranks, is wasted in a succession of thankless roles, although Dalton at least manages to be entertaining just by his presence alone. Bettany, playing a Scotland Yard officer trying to track down Jolie’s disappeared gangster husband, is even given a quip of the sort Roger Moore used to peddle during his Bond days, which is supposed to seem cool and off-hand but makes no sense whatsoever. After learning that a mark he and his men are waiting for at a Venice soirée is an adept swordsman, he remarks: “Well he won’t be duelling tonight.” What?!
Perhaps in another film, written by someone with any kind of ear for repartee, Depp and Jolie might have had a bit of fizz between them. Here they’re not only handicapped by the clunky dialogue, but that the characters themselves seem so naturally incompatible. Jolie is the smouldering gangster’s moll with an overbaked English accent who uses sex to get what she wants (the film never met a cliché it didn’t try and have a loveless fumble with in the back of a Ford Escort), while Depp is a bumbling, dowdy mathematician. Sparks fly in on-screen relationships between evenly-matched characters trying to get one up on each other and playfully prove their superiority. They can have very different skills, but it’s imperative that the audience believe either one could feasibly survive without the other or else the sense of dependence throws everything off-balance. Depp here is perpetually playing back-up to Jolie and by the time he starts to assert himself, it’s only in order to save her from danger, thus effectively having the same problem but in reverse.
While Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant had charm to spare in concealing Charade‘s shortcomings in other areas, with The Tourist‘s central relationship falling flat, its myriad other problems only become more pronounced. The plot is supposed to be threadbare, but should at least make a modicum of sense. No-one acts remotely realistically and each new development only throws the film further into disarray, culminating in two character twists that are actually loathsome. The only reason you won’t see them coming – because once you’re told very early on that Scotland Yard can’t find Jolie’s husband because he’s had surgery to change his appearance, there’s only going to be one outcome – is because it’s nigh-on impossible to believe that any paid writer could have such total disregard for common sense and internal story logic. That the script was revised by Oscar-winning scribe Julian Fellowes only compounds the insult. The Tourist longs to offer a bright and playful day in the Mediterranean sun, but the best it can come up with is the cinematic equivalent of a stormy afternoon spent under a leaky parasol on the sewage-stained Spittal seaside. Even the hardiest of souls would do well to stay at home for this one.
Overall Score: 4.00 – Terrible (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theatre incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future)