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Posted: January 04, 2011

Dave on film: Look for Jolie and Johnny on DVD

"The Tourist" is popcorn-worthy

Dave Taylor

It's a Hollywood adage that star power isn't enough to rescue a daft film, but The Tourist almost proves it wrong, with a beautiful Angelina Jolie outshining a dull, humorless Johnny Depp...

Review: The Tourist

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie! Is there anything else people needed to know about this movie to make The Tourist a success? Actually, yes, and while it was reasonably enjoyable to see two of the brightest stars in Hollywood finally share the screen, it turns out that the film has garnered lots of bad - and perhaps unjustified - reviews. Rotten Tomatoes, for example, shows an aggregate score of 20 percent, making it the most disliked film currently in the theaters.

The story is rather complicated, where beauty Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) is the one connection with the elusive Pearce, who stole $2.3 billion dollars from Brit crime boss Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) and then skipped out on a £744 million dollar back tax bill. Why he owes taxes for money he stole from a mobster isn't explained, but one presumes that he was supposed to declare it on his taxes and, uhm, forgot.

To throw off the Italian Interpol surveillance team - directed at a distance by gawky Scotland Yard Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) - Pearce tells Elise to board a train heading to Venice, find someone who is a similar height and weight to him and befriend the man. The surveillance team will then follow the wrong man (shades of Hitchcock's classic "the wrong man" storyline) and she'll be free to meet up with Pearce and resume their romantic relationship.

The slovenly man she picks is Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Madison, Wisconsin who is traveling Italy solo. He's a bit of a mess, awkward and clearly uncomfortable in the presence of the dazzling Elise. They trade suggestive banter while on the train and go their separate ways once they arrive in Venice, but Elise pops up again while Frank is clumsily looking at a map and trying to figure out the city.

Their continued interaction doesn't go unnoticed by the surveillance team and Shaw learns about it too, sending in his own goon squad of Russian mobsters to capture Pearce and get his money back. For two billion in stolen funds, however, he seems surprisingly cool: that's a lot of money. The chase is on with both Interpol and the Russians after poor, hapless Frank, believing he's Pearce. But he's just a school teacher...

The greatest weakness of the film is that it can't decide what tone to take. The surveillance team is laughably amateur and it's clear that Elise can't help but be aware that she's under watch by some sort of constabulary. Even as the film opens, we as viewers are unsure whether it's meant to highlight that the film is going to be a comedy, a light-hearted "caper" film, or whether it's a more serious thriller.

The key player in how The Tourist proceeds turns out to be Shaw: he's the wronged mobster, so if the film is going to be serious, he needs to be angry and vengeful, ready to perform any atrocity to wreak his revenge on Pearce for the theft of two billion dollars. After killing one of his underlings in cold blood, he does seem serious, but he's never really frightening and even in a later scene where he's torturing Elise to learn the whereabouts of the safe that ostensibly contains his stolen money (haven't they heard of bank accounts?) we aren't amused by his antics or frightened by the force of his will. Certainly, we know Elise won't be hurt, which takes all the tension out of the scene.

I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock's works and appreciate how he again and again explored the "wrong man" story, where an everyman would be misidentified and then thrown into a complex web of police and criminal mayhem without any resources. At points it seemed The Tourist was moving in that direction, but its inability to chose a tone was a fatal flaw: Hitch didn't do much in the comedy vein, knowing that it's impossible to build any dramatic tension if you're also trying to entertain and amuse.

Depp also seems to have run out of acting resources to play a regular person after his perpetually over-the-top recent roles. After watching him plod through this role without any wit, verve or engagement, perhaps we've arrived at a point where he can no longer pretend to be a regular guy, an "everyman", and should stick to the more dramatic, more melodramatic roles as he so brilliant does in the Pirates of the Caribbean series? In The Tourist he's just boring.

By contrast, Jolie continues to mature as an actor and after her powerful performance in Changeling this is another film where she demonstrates her range and allure. Throwaway action films like Wanted and Salt might pay the bills, but she clearly has the capacity to play strong, dramatic roles and remain engaging to the viewing audience. Too many action roles might have created a woman who can't be open and vulnerable in a relationship, however, and she also seems to find it difficult to fully embrace her role here.

The Tourist is going to be a fun DVD rental when it's available, a good popcorn movie where you can enjoy some beautiful exteriors of Venice, laugh at the occasional dialog and try not to cringe at the holes in the storyline.

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Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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