Andy Bockelman: ‘The Tourist’: Not worth the price of a passport

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'The Tourist'

2 out of 4 stars

103 minutes

Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton.

It seems that whenever Americans travel to Europe, amazing things can happen.

However, the filming of “The Tourist” is not one of those things.

The biggest excitement in Wisconsin math teacher Frank Tupelo’s (Johnny Depp) life is what he reads in spy novels. But, while he’s glancing over the latest page-turner on a train from France to Italy, he meets someone who changes everything. Elise (Angelina Jolie) is a beautiful, cryptic British stranger with whom Frank is instantly smitten. And, to his disbelief, she is actually interested in him, too, inviting him to join her once they reach their Venice destination.

But, Frank’s pleasant turn of events takes a nasty U-turn when he is pursued by gun-wielding hoods looking for someone named Alexander Pearce.

Pearce, as it turns out, is Elise’s former lover, who is not only being pursued by the henchmen of British gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) for boosting billions of his money but also a Scotland Yard investigator (Paul Bettany) looking to nab Pearce on tax evasion.

Frank can’t believe Elise would use him as a patsy, but the more he learns about Pearce’s history, the more suspect Elise’s motives become.

As a guy who’s used to playing larger-than-life personalities like Hunter S. Thompson and Capt. Jack Sparrow, you’d think that Depp wouldn’t be able to restrain his kookiness to play a terminally boring guy like Frank.

Yet, he actually excels in making this average schlub’s dullness work to his advantage in a subtle and worthwhile humorous performance.

Jolie also goes for the indirect approach, but with much less successful results. She can make Elise look enticing, to be sure, but the come-hither expression she has frozen on her face for nearly the entire movie gets old fast.

Bettany livens things up as mercurial John Acheson, the lawman who takes Pearce’s elusion of justice extremely personally, infuriated by Frank’s constant bungling of his operation in tracking down the international criminal. Then there’s Rufus Sewell as a mysterious man who always seems to be around whenever Elise receives communiqués from Pearce.

Coincidence? Maybe.

If you want to get a good idea of where the story’s heading, all you need to know is one name: Christopher McQuarrie.

Not to give anything away, but keeping in mind the screenwriter’s most famous movie, there’s not really any surprises to be had here. And, though it starts out with an intriguing lead-in, the narrative quickly crumbles into tedium.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything to be appreciated in German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others,” particularly in the handsome shots of the Parisian and Venetian locales. However, all this is undercut by the reminder that we’ve had too many of these kinds of action-romance movies in recent months, including “Killers” and “Knight and Day,” and by now it’s just too much effort to invest that much interest in another mismatched couple on the run, fighting for their lives.

“The Tourist” is appropriately named, since the entire film feels like we’re on a guided sightseeing excursion, never in the slightest way connected to any of it.

As the titular character, Depp does his best to make everything work, but he’s not able to make us forget this is a reworked and familiar story in which the only things going for it are considerable production values and scenery.

When a bunch of gondola-laden waterways are more watchable than the leading lady, clearly there’s something wrong.

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