Review: “The Tourist” C+

The Tourist Train Johnny Depp Angelina Jolie

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in "The Tourist (2010)"

I was quite pleased until the contrived ending in The Tourist ruined the film for me. What a disappointment it was. Yes, The Tourist has some cliched elements: gangsters, spies, the Interpol, and a case of mistaken identity (or is it?). But I was enjoying it. After all, it’s entertainment.

When I signed up to see the first Jolie-Depp onscreen marriage I wasn’t expecting a thought-provoking, multi-layered film, no. Not at all. We’re talking about an actress who played Lara Croft and an actor who is still playing Jack Sparrow (The Pirates of the Caribbean is coming back for a forth installment). No question they’re talented, both having remarkable filmographies, but their sex appeal has entranced audience for years, and studios know how much buzz and dough is attached to them.

The Tourist had a nice blend of action, adventure, and romance. Angelina Jolie played the femme fatale, and she did it with the exquisite delicacy the part demanded. Her name, Elise Clifton-Ward, almost sounded as the one of a duchess, which contrasted nicely with Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a Wisconsin math teacher. Elise was sexy without being risque. Frank was uncouth without being a savage. A fabulous dyad.

The scenery of this tale was Europe. The movie opens in Paris but quickly transgresses to Venice. It was delightful to listen to Jolie speaking French and humorous to hear Depp speaking Spanish as he pathetically tried a conversation with Italian authorities. The attempt of the filmmakers to make language be a problem for the protagonist only serves to highlight another letdown – everyone interacting with Frank speaks English (except for a concierge).

The plot is another story of boy-meets-girl-but-girl-is-using-boy-as-a-decoy-to-protect-her-true-lover. At the movie’s beginning, Elise is going to a cafe in Paris, while being spied on by agents of the Scotland Yard. At the cafe, she receives a letter from her lover, Alexander Pearce, giving her instructions to catch a train and deceive the police by using any guy that has his same height and build.

Well, you can see where this is going. The bulk of the movie happens in Venice, with everybody trying to find where the hell the real Alexander Pearce and his fortune are. And with poor Frank mistaken as Alexander, his life must be in danger somehow.

Now the ending, which was source of much distress. Years of cinema has established that conflict is the core of drama. If the screenwriters and director of The Tourist had attended Screenwriting 101, they would have learned that the protagonist can never have an easy way out. But clearly they missed this lecture…

Paul Bettany and Johnny Depp in The Tourist

You think that being handcuffed inside a van with three highly trained Scotland Yard and Interpol agents would be enough to hold someone captive. Well, the filmmakers of "The Tourist" would disagree.

As the stakes get higher, we find the delicate Elise with a knife at her throat. Frank is also there. The couple is surrounded by armed gangsters. Through the open windows, Interpol snipers observe this unfolding as they follow order to hold their fire. At this moment, a brilliant storyteller would have shut the drapes and excluded the snipers from the equation, leaving Frank and Elise to figure a way out.

If the curtains had been shut and a plausible ending delivered, I could bump this movie’s score to a solid A. But the “easy way out” mars the movie with incredibility in what should be its most intense scene. The homogeneous gasp of the audience assured me that I wasn’t the only who felt that way.

This was but one of the most contrived scenes in the movie. Also, the revelation that follows it was clearly planted as twist, but its effect is counterproductive as it shatters the plot we had, so to speak, fallen in love with. If you don’t mind having that spoiled as well, I’m referring to the fact that Frank is in fact Alexander Pearce. The story functions without that. I liked it when Frank was just a tourist caught on all this international intrigue by accident. He was likable as a math teacher. The moment he becomes Alexander I lose the empathy I had for him. I’m not sure why. I just do.

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