Saturday 11 December 2010

Give me a break: "The Tourist"

In The Tourist, what sometimes seems like the twenty-seventh post-Bourne hare around Europe, an outrageously overdressed Angelina Jolie, exercising Anglicised consonants last heard emerging from the mouth of Madonna circa 2001, plays a woman being pursued by the authorities through Paris and Venice for what she knows about an elusive masterthief. Your initial thoughts are: if you were trying to cross the continent undetected, it would probably be a boon if you didn't so closely resemble the Sphinx of our age, and if you weren't so inclined to strut about everywhere in heels like Naomi Campbell modelling the Balenciaga winter collection.

But that's the nature of this especially daft beast, which similarly asks us to buy Johnny Depp - warming up for Jack Sparrow in straggly hair and grungy beard - as the maths teacher from Wisconsin Jolie's Elise Clifton-Ward (!) comes to hook up with on her travels, and to accept that the director behind 2007's The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, might be remotely interested in any of the above for any reason other than a super-large American paycheque. Depp is first introduced leafing through a tattered paperback, and the plot of The Tourist - which the credits assure me was cooked up by von Donnersmarck with Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) - might as well have been cribbed directly from its pages.

Except this isn't straight pulp, but knowing, postmodern pulp - because, with the exception of her appearance in Michael Winterbottom's underseen A Mighty Heart, Jolie has proven herself incapable of turning up anywhere without putting smirking quotation marks as wide and as fulsome as her celebrated lips around the whole. The Tourist is a marked improvement on Jolie's own Mr. & Mrs. Smith, because it's pastiche Hitchcock rather than pastiche Michael Bay, and because von Donnersmarck, turning it in at a leanish 107 minutes, doesn't stick around to take a crap in your head. It may even be mildly preferable to the summer's starry flop Knight & Day, because there's a kind of amused chemistry between the leads. If Jolie comes across as as unknowable as ever, we at least get the minor privilege of the first Depp performance for some years not to descend completely into lazy, hyper-accessorised pantomime.

By anybody's reckoning, however, The Tourist is a mediocre effort from a filmmaker whose first feature promised so much; even as glossy escapism, it functions only up to a point. You can see why A-listers keep being drawn to these sorts of surveillance charades - films in which they're watched everywhere they go, as must so often be the case in their off-screen lives: it's telling that Elise, like Jason Bourne and Tom Cruise's Roy Miller before her, only checks into those cities and resorts where film folk go to festivals and premieres. The occasion affords the now-standard fetishising of international hotel suites (see also: Somewhere): Jolie undoes a lace bow on her closet to reveal an apparently complimentary rack of designer dresses, and a safe fair spilling over with jewellery. ("They think of everything, don't they?," she coos, and it's true this beats the minikettle and shortbread rounds on offer at the Venetian Travelodge.)

Yet the script defaults entirely when it comes to romance. The idea is that Elise, despite her controlling demeanour, invariably falls in love "with any man she spends longer than a train ride with" - a characteristic that might understandably have appealed to a director whose previous film posited that the affection shared by a writer and an actress might warm the heart of even the chilliest Stasi operative. Jolie's alpha side is having none of this, of course. Her Elise fell for the mastermind only after he demonstrated the nous to keep her in high heels and tchotchkes for life, while Depp's Frank - clad for long stretches in the squarest pyjamas seen outside those old R. Whites commercials - only begins to turn his companion on after he drives a motorboat over one assailant's head. The movies used to prescribe a little high peril as something to take us out of ourselves, a bumpy detour on the road to becoming better people. The Tourist, by contrast, stands as a monument to the notion love will make something grasping and brutal of us all.

The Tourist is in cinemas nationwide.

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