by Matt Lynch Film Horizon Line

The Tourist — Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

December 31, 2010

There’s a scene about halfway through Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s tepid The Tourist during which an Italian policeman appears to doubt Johnny Depp’s mistaken identity alibi not because it stretches credulity, but because it is so boring. Of course, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning this if it weren’t such an apt description of the film itself. A remake of unseen-by-many French film Anthony Zimmer, The Tourist is ostensibly one of those star-powered, breezy, travelogue capers in the vein of Charade or To Catch a Thief. Depp plays Wisconsin math teacher Frank, who becomes the target of gangsters and cops alike when a mysterious femme fatale-ish lady (played by a creepy alien monster that has devoured and taken the form of actress Angelina Jolie) convinces everyone that he’s her fugitive boyfriend who absconded with billions in stolen mafia money.

There will be a few lackluster chases and some romantic misunderstandings, and this should come as no surprise. In fact, there is very little surprise, nor is there much at all in the way of a story in The Tourist, which seems content merely to gaze languidly on a scrubbed-clean Venice filled with not a single imperfectly dressed citizen or less-than-five-star hotel. In place of a narrative, we’re given scene after scene of Jolie’s smug, smirky face, supremely self-satisfied as every person in every shot turns to stare hungrily at her. That anyone would buy Johnny Depp as a schlubby midwesterner is an even more ridiculous conceit, made especially bizarre by his insistence on actor tics like smoking electronic cigarettes and making bug-eyes at Jolie as if he’s in a Leslie Nielsen movie.

Von Donnersmarck seems intent on diffusing every last ounce of tension in the film. What little action there is seems like a distraction, something to pad out the running time between what seems to be meant to play as a romantic battle of wits. But the focus on watching movie stars be famous leaves absolutely no room for any sense of jeopardy. So disinterested is the director in even hinting at suspense that there’s even a scene of Depp escaping police custody simply because the cop’s backs are all turned. Even the film’s lone bright spot is a slight, nostalgic one. The villain is played by the great Steven Berkoff, having a grand old time in this latest in a long line of bad guy roles (from Rambo III to Barry Lyndon). But the film still fails to let him really go nuts, so fascinated it is by dowsing tension and manufacturing one anticlimax after another.