The Tourist

So I'm a little too into Oscar predicting. In the last five years, the Pittsburgh Steelers (who I root for because I grew up there), have played in and won two Super Bowls that I watched with only mild enthusiasm.

But during the Academy Awards I groan or fist-pump with every hit or missed call for some reason. So I savor any category with a sure winner.

If only there were such a thing. At the 2007 ceremony, nothing looked safer than Pan's Labyrinth in the Best Foreign Film spot- it even had five 'domestic' nominations, so to speak. It's at number 74 in the top 250, even.

But stealing its thunder (and presently number 56, incidentally) came a German thriller called The Lives Of Others, which walked off with the statue and reviews ranging from "poignant, unsettling thriller" to ""one of the greatest movies ever made!" It was a stunning, awesome debut feature from the awesomely-named Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark.

Hollywood soon came calling, and we all rubbed our hands for his next step.

On paper, The Tourist sounded like a great idea- a thriller based on a little-seen French movie where an unsuspecting average joe is chosen by a Woman of Mystery to be a patsy for her boyfriend, a fugitive millionaire thief.

After a carousel of directors and stars, The Tourist ended up with our man Von Donnersmark and a studio's dream for a leading couple: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Surely we could end up with a tense, throwback thriller right in the same ballpark of The Lives Of Others, which mined the former Soviet Union for endless dramatic silences and tense eavesdropping sessions.

The trailer for The Tourist made it clear this wasn't the case, but it just seemed like it was in a different gear- an action-packed romp with two stars that should have breezy chemistry even on an off day.

The problem is, Von Donnersmark tried to make the latter, but only has the skill set for the former. What results is a languid, under-plotted, barely there sketch of a film that's downright boring.

What went so wrong? I'm not sure what passes for glamorous these days, but the decision to have Depp sport a haircut that resembled a dead animal on his head and Jolie to constantly wear so much dark eye makeup that she could be an anime character (she even wore it to bed!) didn't help matters.

Surely two talented, award-winning thespians could manufacture some chemistry even while appearing to be space aliens, but it's not meant to be: every conversation the leads have is hampered by constant awkward pausing, meaningless silence, and pacing straight out of some other film.

It's the same action-packed trailer/dripping-faucet film switcheroo that The American pulled in September, but instead of overwrought somberness The Tourist just has pointless boredom.

Maybe it's the language barrier, but in this film Von Donnersmark displays a Shamylanian talent for getting wooden performances out of talented actors: Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and (briefly) Rufus Sewell all go to waste explaining the ridiculous plot to us.

Oh yeah, the plot: it's not worth getting into, really. It's contived, muddy, and culminates in the London Financial Crimes Division straight up murdering some people. There's one big reveal halfway through the film that's wholly uneccesary, and one at the very end that, even though it's wholly predictable, is still ridiculously insulting.

But the plot shouldn't matter! Duplicity had a similarly ludicrous structure, but Clive Owen and Julia Roberts relegated it to window dressing. It was fun. The Tourist is what I'll use from now on to defend Ocean's Twelve when people dismiss it as a pointless Euro-trifle: at least it was fun to watch.

Ah, well. In an interview, Von Donnersmark said: "I had just finished writing a screenplay for a dark, dramatic thriller, and when I heard about The Tourist, I thought, 'Maybe I'll do this one first.'" So perhaps his next film will be appropriately Lives Of Others-ian and we can leave all this behind.

Meanwhile, maybe whoever edited that trailer can recut The Tourist into a solid, thrilling half hour.

Leftover Thoughts:

-To be clear, I don't think FHVD should make the same film every time, I just get the impression that his skill set is still developing.

-There was some rumor that Sam Worthington and Charlize Theron were up for these parts, and in hindsight that seems like a much better fit- Worthington seems a lot more like a hapless American (Depp is always the villain himself), Theron has a better balance of vulnerability AND allure (Jolie here is all allure with a hint of lizard-eyes).

-You want to know the TWO MAJOR SPOILERS so you never have to see it? Okay: First, Jolie is a London Financial Crimes Unit agent in deep cover! But actually she's gone dark and fallen in love with her target (the rich thief) anyway, so it's really not a twist at all until she decides she's falling for Depp and wants to catch the rich thief after all. Finally, Depp turns out to have BEEN THE RICH THIEF ALL ALONG OMG! Even though he sent her a note telling her to choose a random guy and pretend it was him! And we even saw a dream sequence of Depp's where he kissed her- wouldn't he have his original face in a dream? And he acted all nebbishy and awkward while being chased by random thugs, even though he was actually the dude they thought he was! ugh. It's a good thing I had nothing invested by the end of this film.

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