The Tourist is much like a ‘fun size’ Three Musketeer bar. It is fluffy and sweet but once you are done chewing it you want the whole candy bar.
The story is simple enough, Scotland Yard is on the hunt for Alexander Pearce, an accountant who has stolen from his boss who happens to be a mobster. Their only link to the man is through Elise Ward (Angelina Jolie), an on again off again girlfriend who may or may not be in contact with Pearce. When we join Elise and Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany), Elise is having lunch in Venice and receives a message via courier from Pearce that she should get on a particular train and choose a man with a similar build and height to him and pretend to be with him as Pearce has undergone massive plastic surgery and wants to throw the authorities off his trail. Elise does just that and chooses Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) a Math teacher from Wisconsin. Acheson is hot on their trail and sees through the subterfuge rather quickly. Things get complicated when the mob tries to take Tupelo out and everything goes to shit.
The plot is pretty classic boilerplate mistaken identity espionage fair and unfortunately nothing in the movie manages to differentiate itself much from the typical twists and turns found in films like this. The film marches along dutifully delivering the requisite elements and hitting the required beats but feels soulless and empty as if everyone was just going by the numbers and doing only what was required. I get the impression watching this film that it was just an easy paycheck in a beautiful location.
The performances are pretty perfunctory and and are not really bad so much as they are just workmanlike. Depp seems uncharacteristically restrained and while he does a fine job of expressing awkwardness and shyness, you can feel the acting and it doesn’t come off like his usual flow. Jolie similarly comes off as a shell and plays things so disaffected that she feels empty. Bettany likewise plays a driven Inspector but lacks any real intensity or urgency.
It is really hard to blame the actors for this as it seems much more like a function of the writing or directing than the actors just phoning it in (although Jolie admitted she took the part because it would be a quick shoot in Venice and the leads were last minute replacements). The story seems to be serving the mystery and eventual twist so much that it doesn’t allow the audience to really connect with the characters or ever feel invested in their stories. This lack of engagement makes the whole thing feel very empty and the whole thing becomes a throwaway movie going experience.
It would have helped a lot if these by the numbers developments were broken up by exciting action or tense chases but like the story itself the action feels stale and by the book. It isn’t really bad but there is very little excitement to be had and feels like a check mark on a list of elements to deliver as opposed to something organic or integral.
All that being said, there are some issues I had with performances and characters’ behavior that may have been intentional and when watched post twist might make the movie much more clever but the problem is that even if this is the case, there isn’t enough here to make you actually want to sit through it a second time to see if this might be the case. So it might be a case of being too clever for its own good or not being nearly clever enough but I doubt you will really care enough at the end of the day to make the distinction.
I would be remiss if I were to fail to mention how beautiful the cinematography in the film is and it is beautiful. I can’t imagine this was difficult given that Venice is beautiful on its own but the framing of the shots and shot selections are very well done. So you might not be engaged in the story but there is always something pretty to look at be it the city or the leads.
Conclusion [6.5 out of 10]
The Tourist isn’t a terrible movie but it isn’t a very good one either. Everything is just kind of alright and there are no surprises or moments that really take your breath away aside from the locations and sets. You might enjoy the film while you watch to a limited degree but when you are done you may never think of it again and may still be hungry for a full experience.