Saturday, December 18, 2010

Danny Takes Down THE TOURIST ...!


- I'm honestly surprised by THE TOURIST. What looked like a very promising movie in the previews turned out to be a pointless, nonsensical mess of a film. It's pretty mind-boggling, to be honest, because so many talented people are involved in the film's production. But hey, this is what happens when some movie stars and a director come together without any clear purpose other than "guys, let's go make a movie together in an exotic locale!" Because, clearly, The Tourist isn't about story - there's barely one to speak of. Clearly, the movie isn't about casting just the right actors in just the right parts - because all the talent in the film seems completely wasted. Clearly, the movie wasn't meant to be a whiz-bang thriller, because it's short on action, light on wit or humor, and its big "twist" is one of the stupidest things I've seen in a movie this year. So what, you may ask, does The Tourist have going for it? Well, it has Venice. There are, I will admit, some very nice, travelogue-style shots of the famed European locale. But ultimately, who cares. Nice scenery is only one small part of the big picture. And the big picture of The Tourist is that it's got to be one of 2010's biggest misfires, given the big names on the marquee. I'll be honest, after reading a couple of pretty harsh reviews, my interest in the movie severely plummeted. But then I saw that the movie was nominated for a number of Golden Globe awards, and my curiousity was piqued. Despite the dubious nature of some of those nominations, I had to wonder if the movie did in fact have some upside. Could it be an overlooked gem? A misunderstood crowd-pleaser. Well, after my friend Lesli and I exited the theater this past week, I had to side with the movie's harshest critics. I mean ... THIS was nominated for Golden Globes? Are you serious? Johnny Depp for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy? News to the Hollywood Foreign Press - The Tourist is not funny. It's not even very good.

Just thinking about the narrative structure of The Tourist sort of makes me cringe, because from Moment 1 of the movie, you feel like you're being not-so-subtley manipulated. As soon as we meet Angelina Jolie's Elise, the movie seems to be cheating. From the get-go, everything about her is so vague and mysterious that, well, she could be anyone or anything. We know she is a vaguely exotic, aristocratic-seeming woman who is being carefully watched by the British police (at least I think they're the police, it's never really explained). Elise does all sorts of exciting stuff ... like walking down the street and sipping tea in cafes. You know, the stuff great movie moments are made of. Once she alludes the Brits, she gets on a train bound for Venice, on which she befriends a stranger named Frank - played by Johnny Depp - a bookish-seeming math teacher from Wisconsin. It turns out that Elise is working with a mysterious criminal (with whom she also seems to be romantically involved), and said criminal has asked her to find someone who resembles him and to use that guy as a patsy, to throw the police off of their trail. Frank ends up being the patsy, and soon enough he's got the police, Russian gangsters, etc. after him. Of course, instead of bolting and getting the hell out of Dodge, Frank just can't quit Elise - because, hey, after a few minutes of mostly listless back-and-forth repartee, he is - wouldn't you know it - in love.

Now - and I think this goes without saying - but the casting of Johnny Depp as a supposedly bookish math teacher from Wisconsin is just plain misguided. The whole point of the entire movie seems to be that we follow this American everyman as he gets caught up in an exotic world of international intrigue. And Johnny Depp is that everyman? Depp, still very much suffering a quirkiness hangover from his years playing pirates, eccentrics, and mad hatters, seems to have forgotten to dial it down a notch. Frank's oddball mannerisms are about 85% Jack Sparrow. He speaks in the same quasi-British accent as does Angelina Jolie (yeah, not buying for a second that he's from Wisconsin). The whole thing just feels way, way off. But here's the kicker: I think the movie WANTS us to think that something is off from the very beginning. All along, we're supposed to suspect that Depp's Frank may not be who he says he is. And the script handles this with hamfisted coyness, and very quickly paints itself into any number of corners. If Frank turns out to really be a plain old math teacher ... well, in that case, about 50 things in the film end up making little sense. If Frank turns out to be a criminal in disguise, an undercover cop, etc. - well, that possibility makes little sense either, without some very, very contrived explanations.

And it's funny, because I feel like I JUST saw Angelina Jolie in a similar maybe-mistaken-identity movie that, for all its faults, was still leagues better than this. Oh, that's right - I DID. It was called SALT, and yes, it was dumb at times, but at least Jolie had plenty of personality in it and was able to kick all sorts of ass. And at least that movie had a sense of fun, and delivered its over-the-top twists with gleeful relish and a bit of a knowing wink at the audience. In The Tourist, Jolie's Elise is a walking fembot, with zero personality and an eerily blank expression on her face. Only during a decently-staged boat-chase scene, in which Elise is forced to get her hands (and her designer clothes) dirty, does Jolie really seem to come alive. And isn't that what most of us like about Jolie anyways? That she can effortlessly play a badass action hero just as well as her male counterparts? That she can bust heads in a leather catsuit and look good doing it? Jolie in The Tourist is the most boring she's been in ages - a walking fashion magazine photo-shoot. I don't get it ... The Tourist feels like a movie made by tabloid-worshipping dimwits, not by movie fans. It's a movie that seems to think we'll explode into starstruck fangasms just from seeing Jolie and Depp, together at last. Don't they know that we like Jolie because she plays slightly-crazed femme fatales who smirk seductively as they whup-ass? Don't they know that Johnny Depp is who he is because he fearlessly plays kooks and madmen and has never allowed himself to be typecast as a generic leading man? The Tourist seems to miss the boat on everything that actually makes these two stars so popular and effective as actors - instead trying to cash-in on the sheer name-value of Depp and Jolie. But ... newsflash, Hollywood -- most of us don't give a crap about Depp and Jolie as glamorous movie stars, we just want to see them in great roles and great movies. Can we officially declare the age of the box-office-draw movie star to be OVER and DONE WITH? Depp, Jolie, Clooney, Roberts, all the rest ... they've all been in their fair share of BOMBS, and nobody is going to shell out the cash to see them if the movie looks like crap.

With all that said, it's sort of unbelievable how many great actors are in The Tourist's supporting cast. Even more unbelievable? How little they are given to do. Paul Bettany plays the personality-deficient Inspector who's after Jolie, and he has absolutely nothing of any importance to do or say. He's just there (and again, look at how cool Liev Schreiber got to be in Salt - sorry, Paul, you picked the wrong Jolie movie). Okay, you think that's crazy? Well TIMOTHY DALTON is in this movie. James f'n Bond. A guy who can still absolutely own a movie - see HOT FUZZ for a great example, even his recent turn on CHUCK has been great. And yet ... Dalton does jack and squat in The Tourist! Despite looking to be in great shape and ready to bust some heads, Dalton gets in a few token lines and that's it. Ugh. Oh, and then there's Rufus Sewell, another actor who I've been a fan of since his dynamo role in Dark City back in the day. Sewell has about two lines in the film, and minutes of screen time. Again ... ugh.

It's always sad when a movie is stacked with great actors and a good basic premise, and yet totally fails to capitalize. With the right script and directorial vision, The Tourist very easily COULD have been a very fun, very entertaining hi-octane action movie. I would have loved to see what a great action director could have done with this, what a great action writer could have done to punch up the script and create some actual chemistry between the two leads. Maybe give us a twist or two that wasn't mind-numbingly lame. By all accounts, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a talented guy (and man, what a name!), but he seems somewhat unsure of himself in this one, stuck in a weird no man's land between artsy, European-style slow-burn thriller and American-style action-flick. But whatever happened during the movie's production, someone was definitely asleep at the wheel. And you might very well fall asleep as well during this lifeless mess of a movie. See it for the scenery? Maybe. But no way is The Tourist among the year's elite films. Instead, it will, I think, go down as one of 2010's biggest disappointments.

My Grade: C-

No comments:

Post a Comment