Dearth in Venice

The stars and set­ting pro­vide plenty of eye candy, but we were hop­ing for some­thing just a bit more sub­stan­tial from the di­rec­tor of writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

WHAT DID we ex­pect Flo­rian Henckel von Don­ners­marck to do af­ter The Lives of Oth­ers? An­other med­i­ta­tion on the dis­con­tents of post-war Ger­many? A longcher­ished project con­cern­ing an ob­scure high-brow philoso­pher?

Per­haps not. Though that muchad­mired film – in­deed, one of the most rap­tur­ously re­viewed of the past decade – ad­dressed se­ri­ous is­sues, it was, more than any­thing else, a rol­lick­ing en­ter­tain­ment. So, it is not al­to­gether sur­pris­ing that Herr von Don­ners­marck has plumped for a shame­lessly un­pre­ten­tious com­edy-thriller.

But still. This fleshed-out

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trav­el­ogue is so light­weight it has trou­ble re­main­ing an­chored to the screen. Breathe too heav­ily and it might, you feel, break apart be­fore your gap­ing eyes.

None of which is to sug­gest that The Tourist is not good fun. What we have here is a lus­cious romp in the style of clas­sic di­ver­sions such as Cha­rade or North by North­west. It is not, of course, in the same class. But it is some­what more con­sis­tent than re­cent clones such as Salt and Knight and Day. You could do worse.

The twisty plot finds De­tec­tive Paul Bet­tany and his col­leagues spying on Elise, a glam­orous English­woman with an ab­surdly el­e­gant wardrobe and an anachro­nis­ti­cally aris­to­cratic ac­cent. Played by An­gelina Jolie with her cus­tom­ary ex­tra-ter­res­trial poise, Elise is, es­sen­tially, a less fleshy ver­sion of Lady Pene­lope from Thun­der­birds.

Events kick off with the of­fi­cers ob­serv­ing her re­ceive a mys­te­ri­ous note at a Parisian café. The mis­sive, which she im­me­di­ately burns, in­structs her to get on a train to Venice, pounce on an un­sus­pect­ing by­stander and – by cud­dling up close and invit­ing kisses and smooches – con­vince the au­thor­i­ties that he (the stranger I mean) is the sender of the note.

Some­what later, we learn that Elise was once mar­ried to a fraud­ster who stole some mas­sive sum of money from an English hood­lum de­ranged enough to be played by Steven Berkoff (me hun­gry, me gnaw on in­no­cent fur­ni­ture). The con­stab­u­lary are watch­ing her to get at him.

Of­fered a train­load of busi­ness­men, In­ter­Rail­ing stu­dents and re­tirees on jaunts, Elise, not sur­pris­ingly, plumps for the trav­eller who looks most like Johnny Depp. You wouldn’t think that Mr Depp is ideal cast­ing for a shy maths teacher from Wis­con­sin, but, to be fair to the star, he pulls the role off pretty well. Wear­ing a woolly beard, his face fat­tened out ever so slightly, Depp does a de­cent im­per­son­ation of some­body you might ex­pect to meet at a model rail­way con­ven­tion. Any­way, this is not the sort of film that re­quires the fe­male lead to fall in love with John C Reilly or Paul Gia­matti.

Oops, did I say “fall in I love”? Well, let’s not pre­tend we’re giv­ing any­thing away. Forced to rub along in a ho­tel suite that com­prises only 10 or 12 rooms (cue views of Venice’s most lovely canal and buck­ets filled with the finest cham­pagne), they soon find them­selves warm­ing to one an­other. Un­hap­pily, Berkoff’s gang fall for the scam and take to dis­charg­ing re­volvers in the blame­less ped­a­gogue’s di­rec­tion.

Show­cas­ing the same love of brown light and crawl­ing cam­era moves that char­ac­terised his first film, von Don­ners­marck makes some­thing un­de­ni­ably se­duc­tive of the open­ing se­quences. As well as ap­ing the plot of Cha­rade, he also does a de­cent job of repli­cat­ing the de­li­cious tone of Stan­ley Do­nen’s film. Cut out the few rare glimpses of a mo­bile phone and The Tourist could eas­ily be mis­taken for some­thing shot in circa 1963.

You prob­a­bly know what’s com­ing. Like so many re­cent films that rely on am­bi­ence, The Tourist (based on an undis­tin­guished French film called An­thony Zim­mer) doesn’t seem to have any idea how to tie up its many loose ends. The fi­nal quar­ter is rushed, in­co­her­ent and per­func­tory. Most dis­grace­fully, the fi­nal twist is so ob­vi­ous and ba­nal you will prob­a­bly have al­ready run it through your brain and dis­missed it as a se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity.

Which brings us back to our open­ing dilemma. The Tourist passes the time well enough, but you won­der why von Don­ners­marck both­ered with it.

Ru­fus Sewell can’t take his eyes off An­gelina Jolie in The Tourist

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