Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Tourist

"Tourist Class"
"Just the Thing I Need...How Nice"

In between "Pink Panther" movies and his other comedies, director Blake Edwards used to make elegant truffles of movies with big stars, great locations, and high production values.  But whatever the veneer of stylishness they showcased, there was always a kernel of truth to what he did.  Edwards understood that even though the wrapping may be exquisite, the present it surrounded should be pretty special too.

So, I guess what I'm saying is The Tourist is a pretty lousy Christmas present.

Oh, it looks spectacular, jetting (training and gondoling, actually) from Paris to Venice, all chi-chi and ritzy, but it falls flat as a caper, a romp, or even a good time.*  Hell, it even falls flat in the half-hour review of its particulars with so many plot-holes and needless complications that, given the film's resolution, it makes little sense.  Oh, you can see how it might work...but if it is what they say it is, then why....???  (Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why....)

And when you start doing that analysis, you know that the thing hasn't really been thought through...they were just making it up as they were going along and hoping nobody would notice that the film only makes sense five minutes at a time.  You're supposed to be distracted by the gorgeous decors, the elegant suits (and suites), Angelina Jolie's wardrobe (and how she fits in it**), and Johnny Depp's clowning*** to actually figure out that the movie is a shell-game, and a shell of a movie, as hollow as a chocolate bunny on Easter, and with as much nutritional value beyond being sugary.

Hard to believe, then, that the director—and co-scriptwriter, along with Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria)—is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose last film was the extraordinary Best Foreign Film Oscar winner The LIves of Others.  That was a complex morality-play that moved across the demolition of the Berlin Wall, of how hunter and hunted can come to a mutual respect.  But this can't even get its internal logic right.  Even a finely-crafted Mercedes can fall apart if you don't throw some oil in it.

Add to the script problems the lack of any frisson between Jolie and Depp, both of their characters going through the motions acting as cool as cucumbers (him, comically; her, glacially).  He tries to throw some bits of business around, but they're fairly subtle (and inconsistent)—like his language malapropisms (which will fly over most Americans' heads) and a tipsy act—that they get lost in the shuffle.  Jolie has a tougher problem; she has to fight herself and her image.  This is the second feature (after Salt) where Jolie is tasked with a poorly written role that requires no acting challenge, so much as present herself in an iconic way.  In other words, she has reached the point in her career where she no longer has to be good, as she does to look good.  This is a movie in Liz Taylor mode, Audrey Hepburn-style, the queen bee with drones hovering to do her bidding. But, she receives no help at all, not from the script, not from the cast (which includes Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and Steven Berkoff—the latter two impressive, as always), the director lighting her well and showing her at her best.  She is set apart—the only woman in the cast; she might be able to carry the box-office, but she can't carry the movie, poor as it is, and as enticing as it might look.  She is a fine actress, as her awards-gathering early in her career demonstrated.  But a few more of these vehicles and she may have to de-glam her career—as Charlize Theron (who left this project) did. 

They should have called it "The Tourist Trap," instead. 

The Tourist is a Cable-Watcher. 

* I'm sure it wasn't the movie, but I started to develop chest pains during it, and I began to think that all this sumptuousness was starting to clog my arteries, maybe I was just distressed, so, I shut my eyes...oh, for about 20 minutes...just listening to the soundtrack, and when I opened them again...gosh, I hadn't missed anything.

** In one sequence, French police are tracking Jolie's Elise Ward with cameras as she glides down a Paris street.  Two of the officers zoom in to see if they can see a pantie line, and their superior admonishes them "Be more professional, guys."  And as if to show just how professional the filmmakers are, director Von Donnersmarck cuts to a tight shot of Jolie's ass.  No VPL.  They may have been going for self-deprecation there, but, actually, I think, they nailed the problem.  "Be more professional, guys."

*** Okay, I am now calling "b.s." on Depp's maintaining an artist's pose.  This and the "Pirates" sequels point to a man picking up a paycheck.  I used to have a lot of respect for him...but now...(According to IMDB, Tom Cruise was supposed to play the part—he and Jolie have been circling each other for awhile, as he was supposed to, play Salt—then Sam Worthington, who left over "creative differences")

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