Let’s not mince words; The Tourist is one of the most outstandingly atrocious films of the year. It is so unbelievably bad that we must surely assume von Donnersmark and co-writer McQuarrie (who brought us The Lives Of Others and The Usual Suspects respectively) have done this purposefully and in a knowing fashion. The plotlines, performances, camerawork, and shoddy effects are terrible; and yet there is some strange enjoyment to be had out of all this pomp and cheese… and it doesn’t feel like an accident.
From the moment Elise (Jolie) appears on screen – in a cream gown and fur lifted from Breakfast At Tiffany’s – we are transported to a shimmering realm of 1950’s glare and colour where subtlety and originality have been obliterated. This is what an espionage thriller would look like if Jerry Bruckheimer were staring at The 39 Steps through Gene Kelly’s View-Master. Elise is racing through Gare du Lyon to catch the 8:22 train; and we know this because we hear her voice-over explaining that she needs to catch the 8:22 train… and then we see a close-up of the departure board advertising the 8:22 train… and then we see Paul Bethany – a bitter and overworked British agent – using some of Bruckheimer’s patented ‘neon-blue-computer-stuff’ technology to piece together a ripped-up note revealing that his target is getting the 8:22 train. Alexander MacKendrick would be proud, but anybody born after 1953 will be yawning and/or laughing.
When a modern Pendolino train shows up at the platform it feels as though an alien spaceship has crashed into post-war Lyon; but Elise doesn’t waste any time in her mission to find a man that has the same height and build as her mystery accomplice (we know this is what she is trying to do because her voice-over tells us so) and dragging him to the suitably art deco dining car for the duration of the journey. The hapless chap whose life is about to be torn apart simply because he has the same height and build as a criminal is Frank (Depp) – a maths teacher from Wisconsin who smokes an electric cigarette and reads spy novels.
When they arrive in Venice (where else could this film be set?) Frank finds himself escaping from Interpol and Russian gangsters who all believe him to be Alexander Pearce; and when Elise rescues him from the jaws of death she finally admits that she has been using him as a foil to protect her lover, who has stolen billions from the gangster and is wanted by MI5. She tries to send Frank home, but the forlorn traveller with his sad-puppy eyes and glass jaw refuses to flee from the woman he loves (he has fallen in love by the way). Queue an epic climax where all the various parties descend on a sparkling Venetian ball and fight it out. Oh! and there’s a gigantic and jaw-dropping twist too… you’ll never see it coming!
Some early reviews have called this a ‘turkey’, but those reviewers can’t possibly have appreciated the Ealing-throwback chivalry of the whole enterprise. This isn’t quite a comedy (it isn’t Carry On…) but it goes beyond Hollywood ‘tongue-in-cheek’ trashiness to provide a sleek and thoughtful rubbish film that earns its laughs.