A throwback of sorts to an era of star-driven cinema, “The Tourist” doesn’t have to supply much of an effort to keep eyes glued to the screen. With Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie securely fastened in the starring roles (Jolie’s pillow lips take a supporting credit), all that’s left is expensive make-up and incredible costumes, the rest should fall into place with ease. For better or worse, there’s a caper to decode at the heart of the film, which often gets in the way of the pretty people doing pretty things. It’s interesting to note that even the director recognizes the futility of a plot, making a grand push to turn this postcard into a knockout punch, yet failing to make much of an impression beyond superficial thrills.
With her lover in hiding, chased by mobsters and law enforcement officials for stealing billions of dollars, Elise (Angelina Jolie) has been instructed to select a lookalike companion to help distract interested parties. On a train to Venice, she picks up Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin on vacation to clear his weary mind. While the pair strike up a connection, Frank can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the mystery woman’s interest, which eventually leads him into trouble once cops and crooks locate the duo. Facing the wrath of gangster Ivan (Steven Berkoff), the obsession of Agent Acheson (Paul Bettany), and the silky temptation of Elise, Frank finds himself sucked into trouble, falling for his enigmatic companion while narrowly escaping various attempts on his life.
A remake of the 2005 French film, “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” has been beefed up for its American equivalent. While the core of the feature concerns traditional mysterious happenings, a sea of red herrings, and a few chases, most of the attention is placed on the leads. Ordered to carry the film with their inherent smolder, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (“The Lives of Others”) leans on Depp and Jolie quite extensively throughout the picture, trusting their charms will be enough to bolster the sex appeal and noirish squints of the material. It’s a solid bet to make, as both actors commit low-key, but comforting work as the tangled duo, with Jolie turning on the glamour high beams to communicate Elise’s command over all men, cutting through the scenery like cherry-lipped royalty, making Depp’s performance of astonished reactions amusing for its realism.
While always brewing intrigue, “The Tourist” spends the first hour gradually shaping the relationship between Elise and Frank, delighting in the thawing ice and burgeoning attraction. The film is best served in the Hitchcockian simmer, leaving the viewer to decide the true motivation behind the pairing as the action heads to the splendor of Venice, a place of European majesty that fits the ‘60s mood summoned here, reinforced heartily through outstanding work from cinematographer John Seale and composer James Newton Howard. For a brief shining moment, the film is all sunsets, cocktails, and flirtations. Leave it to the plot to ruin everything.
It’s not necessarily an unpleasant routine of twists and turns contained in the screenplay, it’s just all anemically executed by the director, who drags “The Tourist” down in the final act, paying off the numerous interested parties with an absolute absence of tension. There should be more of a lunge to Elise’s identity, along with Frank’s incredulity, but a vice-like hold of suspense never materializes. The performances from the supporting roles also lack personality (Bettany is a real lump of coal in the film), further reinforcing the limp of the climatic showdown.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation is tasked with articulating the film’s sensual and procedural cinematography, with the viewing experience bouncing back and forth from romance to examination. Colors are sustained in full, communicating the historical romance of Venice, while taking special note of costumes and beautiful people. Blues and reds are especially potent (Jolie’s lips pop right off the screen, as they usually do), along with a lush amber glow, with confident shadow detail keeping the picture’s extensive use of black in play, making sense out of evening adventures. Skintones are natural while sustaining that movie star glow. Detail is hearty, allowing a full survey of locations and ornate costuming. Gorgeous actors and gorgeous locations make for a satisfying HD event.
The 5.1 DTS-HD mix truly embraces the nuances of the thriller genre, with a welcome blend of dialogue and scoring that keeps the audio activity perpetually on the move. Once the action heats up, the track heightens with an engrossing swirl of sound effects and generous Venice atmospherics, supplying a rich location experience while tightening the visuals once guns are drawn and chases begin. Verbal exchanges are warm and crisp, setting the appropriate mood with a slightly more circular feel, while office sequence benefit from busy surround activity. Low-end is useful to convey movement, but not deployed in full, while music stays fresh and supportive, selling tonal changes with confidence. DVS and French tracks are also included.
English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was recorded on the film’s opening day of theatrical release, so a true reflection on the entire moviemaking process is missing here. However, the filmmaker is a jovial fellow who confidently explores the formation of his film, pointing out location and casting quirks, while admitting a few geeky secrets that make the man instantly likable (e.g. Timothy Dalton was cast in a supporting role due to the director’s love of “The Rocketeer,” while some of the picture’s science was cribbed from “321 Contact”). While it’s a guarded conversation, the helmer provides a good amount of BTS information, while expressing what it’s like to be around his two superstars. He also challenges viewers to find better train greenscreen work than what’s viewed in the picture, surprisingly supplying an e-mail address that allows film fans an opportunity to prove him wrong. Brave.
“Canal Chats” (6:01) talks to cast and crew on the water, hyping up the splendor of Venice while speeding around the city on a boat. While the conversations are celebratory, talk switches to technical challenges, especially with a metropolis as complicated as Venice.
“A Gala Affair” (7:12) spotlights the work of production designer John Huttman, who turned Venice architectural wonder into a glamorous ball for the film’s final act. Conversation eventually turns to costume design, exploring the purpose behind fabrics and the challenge of extras, while also touching on choreography and scoring.
“Action in Venice” (6:29) delves into the difficulty of staging conflict in the city, with special environmental demands hampering cinematic chaos, requiring the filmmaker to get creative when planning these special moments of pursuit.
“Bringing Glamour Back” (9:08) is a convincing summation of the production effort, with cast and crew interviews discussing the Venice experience. The concentration here is on classic Hollywood flair, with lavish locations meeting a romantic fantasy tone, supplied by enthusiastic film professionals.
“Tourist Destination: Travel the Canals of Venice” (3:17) is a flat-out valentine for the city, with cast and crew interviews spreading the love about the location.
“Alternate Animated Title Sequence” (2:14) is an odd and wisely cut bit of graphic summary, looking to give viewers a slightly more welcoming opener.
“Outtake Reel” (1:26) is a brief collection of mix-em-ups, displaying a few giggle fits and general camaraderie.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Puzzling identities, double-crosses, and rooftop chases? Perhaps. “The Tourist” is far more compelling in a playfully sensual state, fixating on chemistry rather than uninspired thriller mechanics.