The Tourist Is Nobody's Idea of a Good Time 

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The Tourist
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

One of the primal appeals of the movies was and is the chance to see glamorous stars doing exciting things in exotic locals. The Tourist is set is Venice and stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, but despite being a crime thriller it falls shockingly short with respect to the exciting things.

In the charmingly retro premise, a mysterious woman chats with a scruffy tourist on a train, an event that leads his being pursued by both Scotland Yard and Russian gangsters. Jolie was born to play an icy heroine in the classic Hitchcock mold, but it's hard to imagine the Master of Suspense leading with a protagonist like the sad sack on display here. Depp is unique in doing his most interesting work in overtly commercial projects, but here he seems apathetic about the fact that he might get shot or bed a woman so seductive there are maybe three scenes when she's not in slow motion.

That general indifference permeates the film. Secondary roles are not so much cast as typecast, and there's no energy in the style or wit in the dialogue. Unlike this summer's underrated Knight and Day, another romp in Charade territory, Tourist takes itself too seriously to be fun while being too goofy to work as a thriller.

The fault, it seems, lies with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose brilliant and intense The Lives of Others showed a mastery of tone wholly lacking here. Speaking candidly to the New York Times, von Donnersmarck himself acknowledged a lack of comfort with the breezy style required here; he doubts he will make another film like The Tourist "because it helped me see how much better it feels for me to work in my default position."

That default—plodding, deeply internalized—would have been the wrong choice here, but a more grounded approach would have upped the stakes or at least eliminated some of the sillier aspects (it seems fair to assume that a fugitive wanting to keep a low profile would forego the monogrammed stationary). The reason Hitchcock was so effective was that he took the time to turn an utterly preposterous premise like North by Northwest into something that at least felt plausible, even as he embraced the story's excesses.

The Tourist ends with revelations that are meant to shock, but since other thrillers have taught us to expect such reveals, they're predictable and lack impact. Twists, almost by definition, move the story sideways rather than forward, but perhaps if von Donnersmarck and his cast had kept pushing, they could have found what attracted such prodigious talent in the first place.

Opens December 10

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