Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made his mark on the film world with his 2006 debut feature The Lives of Others, the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at the Academy Awards. The study of the German Democratic Republic in the 1980s, during the height of the ‘Stasiland’ era, was a subtle and largely character driven piece that exposed some of the human truths behind the wall for viewers across the world. Almost universally praised, von Donnersmarck proceeded to go a little bit quiet. So it was with some surprise to hear that the director was attached to The Tourist, a thriller with the world’s sexiest people Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland) and Angelina Jolie (Salt). Yet with Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Young Victoria) drafted for script duties, the film had the promise of being a genuinely original game of cat and mouse.
The mysterious Elise (Angelina Jolie) is being followed by Scotland Yard, principally under the investigation of Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany, Legion). After receiving a note with instructions from a courier, Elise boards a train and randomly seduces American tourist Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp). She aims to throw off the scent of the Yard, who are searching for her former lover and wanted criminal Alexander Pearce. Although the cops quickly work out that Frank is nothing more than a timid tourist, the gangster that Pearce stole money from (Steven Berkoff, Under the Cherry Moon) is less understanding. So begins a chase of mistaken identity around the beautiful city of Venice.
The bringing together of The Sexiest Man Alive and The Sexiest Woman Alive onscreen has been foretold since the early days of cinema. Yea verily it hath come to pass, and not only do they not bang, there is very little fizzle to speak of either. Perhaps the sheer sexy force of their combined sexiness cancelled each other out in a protective mechanism designed to stop audience members from going blind. Or more likely, having cast Mr. and Mrs. Sexy, the whole unsexy production team didn’t really know what to do with them. Indeed, the casting is one of the primary problems with the film. Part of the believability of the film relies on the conceit that Johnny Depp is the everyman, caught in a situation he has no control over. With more than a shade of North By Northwest, perhaps someone needed reminding that George Clooney is the modern Cary Grant thank-you-very-much and Mr. Depp is far too pretty for the job of average Joe. Yet with Jolie doing her cold-hard-bitch routine, and Depp seven shades of befuddled, very few sparks manage to fly, save for the odd bit of friction that is want to occur when two stars of such magnitude approach each other’s respective gravitational pull.
So much star power has been infused into the film, in fact, it is a surprise that a new black hole was not created at the heart of The Tourist. Who needs the Large Hadron Collider when they’ve sunk Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton (Hot Fuzz), Rufus Sewell and Steven Berkoff into the mix as well. All of these stars, however, pale in comparison to the real star of the piece – Venice. The middle-aged audiences across the world, for whom these adventures are increasingly aimed at, really only have one thing that gets them going: travel porn. Spreadeagled like the saucy wench she is, the city of Venice gives us a wide-angled money shot in almost every frame, and nowhere else but Italy could possibly serve as a backdrop to this pedestrian (but sexy!) tale. Of course, it is as famous for being a city of canals, so naturally boat chases are a must, along with a few amusing takes on gondola rides. Thankfully, stripey shirts are nowhere to be seen.
While a minimalist plot may work perfectly for pure adrenaline rushes such as this month’s TRON: Legacy, where the core themes are truly the triumph of technology alongside the human spirit, here it only serves to highlight the other deficiencies in the production. With little to no chemistry between the leads, a core MacGuffin that makes less sense as the film goes on and a ‘wrong man’ film we have seen so many times before, what this really needs is a few more comic asides, misadventures and a joy of discovering new places along with the leads. You know, the sorts of things you put in a postcard to make your friends jealous. Instead, all The Tourist really brings home is a collection of static slides of beautiful people standing in front of beautiful objects.
The Tourist commences 26 December (Boxing Day), with just about every other movie this summer, in cinemas all around Australia.