Don’t bother sending a postcard
THERE’S a scene in the Monty Python compilation movie ‘And Now For Something Completely Different’ in which a TV interviewer (John Cleese) is talking to film director Sir Edward Ross (Graham Chapman) about his new project.
Having downgraded him from Sir Edward to Edward, and thence to Ted, the interviewer then explicably refers to the man sitting opposite him as ‘Eddie Baby’. Sir Edward is rather put out, and rejects Cleese’s efforts to call him ‘Sugarplum’, ‘Pussycat’ and ‘Angel Drawers’. “Can I call you Frank?” he asks finally. “Why Frank?” says a surprised Ross. “Frank’s a nice name. President Nixon’s got a hedgehog called Frank,” the interviewer replies by way of ‘explanation’.
That scene popped into my head while watching ‘The Tourist’, a disappointing action-thriller-romance from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the superb ‘The Lives of Others’. It came to mind during a scene on a train, where Elise (Angelina Jolie) meets Frank (Johnny Depp), a maths teacher from Wisconsin. “That’s a terrible name!” she chides him. “It’s the only one I’ve got,” he replies apologetically. “Maybe we can find you another,” she muses.
Elise’s husband, Alexander Pearce, is on the run from a gangster and the authorities having stolen billions. Under constant surveillance, Elise has been instructed in a letter from Pearce to board the train to Venice and “pick someone my height and build and make them believe it is me.” The fact that the viewers (and pretty soon the police) are ‘in on’ this rather reduces the suspense, however.
Still, with mistaken identity, intrigue and two bona-fide mega-stars on board, ‘The Tourist’ has the ingredients to be great fun. Unfortunately it doesn’t deliver. The plot collapses in on itself, with a twist that manages to be both obvious and ridiculous.
It’s serviceable enough early on. The scenery is great, and the action is all right – there are shoot-outs, rooftop chases, canal-based escapades. The fact that the elusive Pearce has had reconstructive surgery means he could be anyone. But the usually brilliant Depp (playing a normal character after years of Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands and The Mad Hatter) is not at his best here, but then his character offers little. Jolie is glamorous but not over-burdening herself either. Just because two stars haven’t worked together before is not reason enough to make a movie.
Paul Bettany from ‘The Da Vinci Code’ pops up as the obsessed cop overseeing the international stakeout operation, while ex-Bond Timothy Dalton makes a cameo appearance as his boss. Steven Berkoff brings more than anyone else to the party as the mobster who has been ripped off by his banker. A psychopath with shades of Hannibal Lecter, his character, Reginald Shaw, may nevertheless be viewed sympathetically in Ireland, though the $2.3 billion he lost seems like small change in the era of Anglo Irish Bank.
Like the project as a whole, the script is slight, but offers the occasional laugh. At one stage, Frank accidentally calls Elise ‘ravenous’ when he means ‘ravishing’. Later on, there’s a nice riff between Frank and an Italian cop who downplays attempted murder as “not no serious”. A taken-aback Frank replies: “Not when you downgrade it from murder. But when you upgrade it from room service, it’s quite serious.”
But the closing stages make a mockery of much of what has gone before. Many fans of ‘Fight Club’ actually enjoy the picture more with each viewing. But if, God forbid, you insist on seeing ‘The Tourist’ more than once, I suspect it would make even less sense second time around.
Rating 4 out of 10