Way back in 1963 a film titled “Charade” was released, and to this day it still is one of the best combinations of mystery, comedy, and drama ever made. The stars were Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Walter Matthau, and if you have never seen this great movie, you definitely should treat yourself because it offers great performances, a terrific script, and a twist that’s virtually impossible to predict.
I mention “Charade” here to point out that it is everything the makers of “The Tourist” starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie must have wanted their film to be. Unfortunately, it’s not even close. In fact, this is the first movie in which the incredibly talented and supremely versatile Depp fails to shine. And what a shock that is!
In “The Tourist,” Jolie plays the elegant Elise Clifton-Ward, the lover of Alexander Pearce, a thief who has stolen millions from a gangster and then gone into hiding. Elise has no idea where Pearce is, but the gangster is after him and so are the police. As the film opens, Elise is in Paris, and while she is sitting at an outdoor café, she receives a message from Pearce telling her to take a certain train to Venice and pick out a passenger who is approximately his height and weight and make those who are looking for him believe that the stranger is Pearce. When she singles out this guy, he turns out to be Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin.
Much to Frank’s surprise and pleasure, Elise invites him to join her at her lavish hotel in Venice, and the two of them are obviously attracted to each other. But it doesn’t take Frank long to learn that Elise is of special interest to the detectives at Scotland Yard, who are hoping that she will lead them to Pearce. What follows is a romantic romp around Venice as Elise and Frank attempt to avoid the police and the angry gangster who wants his money back from Pearce.
Now you would think that a suspense thriller filmed in Paris and Venice with a couple of stars like Jolie and Depp and a supporting cast that includes such fine actors as Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton would be a sure winner on the big screen. But the sad truth is that this movie is a disappointing dud. In fact, parts of it actually may induce dozing off to sleep. So what’s wrong with it?
Let’s begin with the acting or the lack thereof. Although Jolie brings a silky smooth grace to the character of Elise, she and Depp simply don’t have the kind of chemistry necessary to make a film like this work. Much of the reason for this may be Depp’s fault because he portrays Frank with all the enthusiasm of a somnambulist. He delivers most of his lines in a robotic monotone that reminded me at times of Keanu “I-Can’t-Act” Reeves. As I sat there watching this debacle, I kept reminding myself that this was the same guy who has created such incredibly memorable characters as Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter, Gilbert Grape, Sweeney Todd, and Capt. Jack Sparrow. In the film’s production notes, Depp explained what attracted him to the part of Frank.
“My main interest was to play the ultimate ordinary man. The people who are perceived as ‘normal’ are the ones I find the strangest, really. They have tics and flaws and weird mannerisms. This is a guy who hasn’t really lived much of a life, so that was the great challenge — to play him as hyper-normal.”
Perhaps the problem is that Depp just can’t play an ordinary person, but his performance in this film was completely flat and uninspired. And after having created a veritable plethora of memorable characters, Depp now has the dubious distinction of giving moviegoers one of the most forgettable ones.
Another problem with the film is that it completely fails to establish and sustain any level of viable suspense. A good mystery thriller will suck you into the story and keep you guessing until the very end. That’s not the case with this film, and even the “surprise” at the ending is pathetically predictable.
Actually the most interesting performance in the film belongs to Dalton, whose abbreviated appearance at least gave the film a bit of respectability. In the production notes he offered a comment about his part.
“In ‘The Tourist,’ I play the role of Chief Inspector Jones, a number-crunching, budget conscious policeman who is in overall command of the operation to capture Alexander Pearce. His concerns are not in the morality of either the crime or the criminal but in simply getting hold of the enormous amount of money Pearce has stolen. Alexander Pearce has 744 million in illegal assets that, given he is a British subject, we might seize! And interestingly, he goes about it using his own particular sense of what is right and what is wrong, his own decent and worldly morality.”
Despite Dalton’s work and some gorgeous scenery in Paris and Venice, “The Tourist” (Let’s give it a final score of five.) is a glossy failure because instead of being a bona fide suspense thriller, it’s merely a charade of one.