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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  A thriller for grandma
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Thursday, December 16,2010

A thriller for grandma

By Michael Phillips

The Tourist is a facsimile of a masquerade of a gloss on Charade, and on all the lesser cinematic charades that followed in the wake of director Stanley Donen’s 1963 picture. While it’s fairly easy to take in its retro way — it certainly takes it easy on the audience — it’s a peculiar sort of ... leisure thriller, I suppose is the phrase. When the Johnny Depp character scurries against a green screen in his jammies along tiled Venice rooftops, fleeing Russian mobsters, the question arises: Is it still “fleeing” if the actor’s stunt double isn’t moving very quickly?

 

Based on the little-seen French film Anthony Zimmer (2005), The Tourist offers four deluxe cinematic locales: Paris, Venice, Depp and Angelina Jolie. For this assignment director and co-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, best known for The Lives of Others, has no interest in politics or real life or even the planet Earth. He and his colleagues are making a serenely ludicrous Continental fairy tale.

Depp plays the wrong man in this wrong-man scenario, a Midwestern shmo picked up by Jolie’s character, Elise, on a train from Paris to Venice. Elise, a Brit, is the paramour of a man who stole billions belonging to a London gangster (Steven Berkoff ).

 

 

She’s instructed by her shadow lover, who doesn’t appear on screen until late in the game, to find a false boyfriend on the train in order to throw the Interpol agents off the scent, or divert their attention. Something. Couldn’t say for sure, actually. Before the screening I saw the Tourist trailer three times and still couldn’t make out the premise. Good thing Venice photographs well.

Depp’s character is supposed to be a Wisconsin community college math instructor, yet the way he comports himself in The Tourist, even before the fancy dress party scenes, he suggests an amalgam of everybody Carly Simon may have sung about in “You’re So Vain.” Alarmingly skinny by Euro standards and even American ones, Jolie’s Elise nonetheless turns one head after another with comical reliability. In Venice, where the angry mobsters and the Scotland Yard detectives, played by Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton, close in, there are canal chases of middling interest and an almost aggressive lack of razzle-dazzle. Depp barely raises his voice above whisper level throughout The Tourist, even when his life’s in danger.

American audiences, I suspect, may have trouble warming to the film, since they tend to resist movies with any mentions of Interpol (why is that?), just as they resist twisty affairs with a predominantly facetious tone (such as Duplicity, the one with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts). Coming after Salt, Jolie’s previous and harder-charging diversion, The Tourist plays like a quaint artifact from a lost world. It goes down, or sideways, like a cup of caffeine-free mint tea — a thriller for those who prefer to keep their vital signs nice and steady.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service

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