The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
Let's compare. Like Risky's Joel (Tom Cruise) Girl Next Door's Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a straight-arrow overachieving high school senior who wants to get into an Ivy League school and also like Joel he has a horny best friend (Chris Marquette) who urges him to live a little first. In Risky Business Joel falls for the lovely Lana (Rebecca DeMornay) a high-class call girl with a heart of gold and watches his orderly world go haywire especially when Guido (Joe Pantoliano) the killer pimp shows up trying to drag Lana back and nearly ruining Joel's college plans. In Girl Next Door the love interest is the beautiful Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) a onetime porn star who moves in next door captures Matt's heart and rocks his orderly world--but instead of a killer pimp Danielle's pursued by a killer porn producer named Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) who's trying to get her back in the biz. Kelly eventually threatens Matthew for interfering and gets the kid into big trouble nearly blowing his college chances. In both movies Joel and Matthew come up with an elaborate plan to make things right--and aided by their newfound girlfriends and the girls' "work" friends the scheme not only gets them all off the hook but makes them a lot of money as well. See? Same-same--almost.
It's not really the actors' fault they're stuck in a retread. Hirsch who was quite good in The Emperor's Club a Dead Poets Society facsimile is particularly appealing as Matthew. Although he's not as good at doing the wide-eyed-innocent thing as Cruise was Hirsch deftly handles Matthew's burgeoning wild side with comic aplomb especially in the scene where he accidentally takes ecstasy before attending a fancy dinner where he tries to win a scholarship. Cuthbert (TV's 24) however isn't nearly as effective as her co-star or her predecessor. Although the actress certainly looks the part of former porn star Danielle Cuthbert doesn't have that sultry sharp-as-a-tack sensibility DeMornay had in Risky Business. Danielle is more world-weary than anything else and Cuthbert never convinces you that a porn star--even a reformed one--could ever give up her jaded outlook to be with an idealistic high schooler. In the supporting roles Matthew's over-sexed best friend Eli played by the geeky Marquette (Freddy vs. Jason) spouts some amusing quips that never reach the memorable level of the classic "Sometimes you gotta say 'What the f**k '" from Risky Business while Olyphant (HBO's Deadwood) fares well as the menacingly charming Kelly the only character in the film you refreshingly can't quite figure out.
When Risky Business debuted in 1983 the film was an instant classic. It spoke to the male teens of its generation and it made Tom Cruise a bona fide star. No one will ever forget that love scene on the train when Joel came of age with a call girl nor will we forget that he innocently peddled prostitution to get out of a jam. The film was one of the first to portray on-screen teens in a whole new light. (Remember John Hughes' teen angst melodramas like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club came later). Girl Next Door's director Luke Greenfield (The Animal) is obviously a fan patterning his film after the classic with the same beats the same structure and even the same music. Certainly Girl Next Door brings the idea of a Risky Business to a new generation of male adolescents--who will no doubt drool over the whole porn aspect of it. But unfortunately Girl Next Door lacks Risky's irreverent charm.