The Tourist is one of those movies where you know exactly what you’re going to get, but if you’re looking for that sort of thing it’s exactly what you want. I like average Joe action movies, maybe not as much as I love the epic Die Hard action, but sometimes I just need a The Tourist.
The opening sequence shows that the film knows how to create suspense. Scotland Yard is following Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) in Paris. Their surveillance team tries to get her letter from Alexander Pierce before it burns, and the cops tail Elise as music pumps. She loses them in a crowded subway. These are the basics, but it starts the film with energy.
Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) has some badass technology to actually reconstruct the burned letter from its ashes. Otherwise he’s just there to order agents around, and someone’s got to do that. The story really begins when Elise meets Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) on the train to Venice. She plans to frame him as a decoy for Pierce.
Here Jolie lays on the sultry seductress act thick. If it were any other genre, I’d say, “Okay, enough already,” but it’s Euro-romance action. She’s trying to be a Bond girl. While Frank apologizes for his smoking habit, Elise says, “I would rather you be a man who does exactly as he pleases.” She even insults his name, because if a beautiful stranger emasculates you, of course she’s the dream object of desire.
Jolie’s bravado may be too cocky but Depp’s nervous awkwardness is cool. At one point he mixes up ravenous and ravishing. Elise’s plan works though. The Yard analyzes Frank’s picture and Shaw (Steven Berkoff) has a mole in the agency. Shaw seems like he wants Pierce even more than the police. He’s so evil he strangles his henchmen with a tape measure at his tailor’s. At one point Frank escapes just because the police weren’t looking, so it’s pretty silly.
The film draws out the romance of Frank’s spontaneous “date,” juxtaposing Elise’s elegant gowns with Frank’s pajamas. The action scenes keep several elements in play so the audience knows what’s at stake. Frank could run on the rooftops while Elise sees from a bridge and the police are positioned in a boat. A canal sequence crushes a henchman with a boat, shifts into reverse and pulls Frank by a rope. It’s just exciting enough.
It’s formulaic, but all the elements are in the right order. We’ve seen a guy inch across ledges and fall onto fruit stands, but don’t you want to see Johnny Depp have a go at it too? When the Italian police put Frank in a holding cell, I thought he could have had a knock down drag out fight with his crazy cell mate, just because he was there. It’s not Sam Raimi though. It’s just Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck playing by the rules.
James Newton Howard’s score elevates the scenes. Howard knows how to make suspense out of the space between words. It’s pretty in Venice, especially with dancers spinning around Elise and Frank in a ballroom. The Tourist is entirely predictable, but if you know what you’re getting into you shouldn’t be disappointed.