Friday, December 17, 2010

The Tourist, the trailers, and the tail-end

I got a mostly-new set of trailers in front of The Tourist, so let's run them down. Also, after the relatively spoiler-free review written for EFC, I'll go through the problems I had with the movie's plot that I didn't feel right including in the review.

The Lincoln Lawyer - It is nice to see Matthew McConaughey is something that appears to have even a little bit of substance in it again. As charming as his laid-back persona is, it's an easy one to just coast with, so it's nice to see him in this slick-looking movie with a darn good cast attached.

The Eagle - A son of a Roman soldier whose legion was lost in Caledonia attempts to track him down with a Pictish slave. Man, is he going to be disappointed when he finds out that his father's not dead, but has instead been shacked up with Imogen Poots.

The Adjustment Bureau - Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in a sci-fi-ish thing. Originally supposed to come out back in September, but apparently moved to March so there wouldn't be too much of Damon in theaters this fall between it, Hereafter, and True Grit. Possibly also moved so that they could arrange to pay Alex Proyas for ripping off Dark City, only doing it with what appears to be less style.

Battle: Los Angeles - I find it kind of amusing that the guys who made Skyline all appear to have worked effects on this. I think it will be a lot better than that film, but somehow the trailer doesn't really wow me.

Just Go With It - I don't want to spoil the movie, but can it possibly end in any way other than Adam Sandler's character figuring out that Jennifer Aniston's is the one he really loves, with a side order of Brooklyn Decker's being revealed to be a secret bitch? Also, doesn't the whole movie hinge on Sandler's character being too stupid to say "oh, yeah, I found that on the floor of my office and said I'd bring it back to the owner tomorrow"?

(Also, is Nicole Kidman really in this movie? If so, why, and why isn't she mentioned in the trailer?)


Gantz (Part One) - I'm actually kind of excited about this, not just because I enjoy the heck out of the manga and the adaptation features Kenichi Matsuyama from the Death Note movies and the director did the animated Haruka on Obliivon Island (a strange warm-up for this hyper-violent piece), but because the distribution model is kind of exciting, in that these special premiere screenings are happening at the same time in America and Japan. Not waiting for cool movies is exciting, even if they are dubbed in English.

(Not sure why it's dubbed, though - the primary audience for this screening is people who buy comics that they have to read right-to-left for authenticity; I suspect over half of the people buying tickets would prefer subtitles and the other half wouldn't mind)

And now, onto the main feature...

The Tourist

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 December 2010 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run)

Looking at the cast and crew of The Tourist, its eventual ranking as a so-so caper flick is a bit of a surprise, not just because there's plenty of fine talent involved, but because for a good chunk of its runtime, it's surprisingly good: That talent had been doing different sorts of work or underwhelming recently. Things peter out, though, and the filmmakers don't figure out the right note to end on.

As we open, the French police are doing their regular surveillance on Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), an elegant Englishwoman in Paris. Cushy duty, as she's quite easy on the eyes and varies her routine not a whit. Today, though, she receives a note from the watcher's real target, her on-the-lam mob accountant boyfriend, said to have a new face. She's to take the train to Venice, find someone who matches his height and build, and make her pursuers think it's him. She chooses Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a friendly but doofy American tourist. Scotland Yard Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) discovers the deception, but one of his subordinates leaks the information to Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), who sets his sights on Frank and Elise and doesn't notice the other guy with a similar height and build (Rufus Sewell) who is hanging around.

Frorian Henckel von Donnersmarck directs and also wrote the script (also credited to Chrisopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes, and adapted from Jerome Salle's film Anthony Zimmer), and while that mouthful of a name may not immediately leap to mind, it should - he directed The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for foreign language film and absolutely deserved it. As things start, he's playing with surveillance again, and that part of the movie is as snappy as expected. Then Frank shows up, and the movie takes on a more comic tone. Von Donnersmarck doesn't exactly slip here, but things necessarily become a little more disjointed than they were; even brief stops to drop a surprise, let a punchline breathe, or allow the audience recover after an action beat make things a little less smooth than the slick chess game that opens the movie.

Full review at EFC.

Normally, I'd be giving The Tourist a bit of a thumbs-up for not doing the whole worn-out "flashes showing every hidden clue a second time to spell out just how it all fits together" thing. All too often, it treats the audience like idiots. However, I strongly suspect that there were no clues to point to Frank actually being Alexander, the mob money guy he's supposed to be a decoy for - that we're supposed to be satisfied that there was no reason that it would not be true.

Except... There are two ways this could work, and either way, it seems like a pretty crappy plan. Mostly because it's unnecessary - if nobody knows about his new face, why not just go to Venice, pick up the money, and get into contact with Elise after the fact? Nobody gets shot at in that version of the plan. The downside is that it involves Shaw still being alive and free to chase him down, but if Frank/Alexander is smart enough to steal the money and come up with a master plan to get Shaw and the police to follow him in such a way that he gets out with the money, he's got to be smart enough to have a blackmail cache he could drop on Scotland Yard's and Interpol's doorsteps.

But let's look at what he did. Say Elise is not in on the plan. In that case, Frank/Alexander's plan is reliant on (a) her choosing to sit with him on the train, (b) Acheson being able to reconstruct the burnt note, (c) the police force having a leak in it that will inform Shaw where he is going, (d) his Frank persona being charming enough that she follows him to make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble, (e) him being able to extricate her from any trouble she gets into despite his being an accountant as opposed to a secret agent, (f) the police taking care of his Shaw problem, but not locking the scene down enough that his decoy will allow him to escape. That is a plan with a lot of potential points of failure, where "potential point of failure" is equal to "opportunity to get shot".

(Although, I must say, casting Rufus Sewell is a good decoy for the audience. Not so huge a star that using him this little will tick the audience off, but well-known enough that we figure there's going to be more to him than we see.)

The alternative is that Elise is in on the plan. This means that either this plan was concocted long ago, or Frank/Alexander had some secure way of communicating with her that renders everything else theater. (c) and (f) are still major issues with this plan, and it also requires Acheson to be very, very predictable. In both cases, Chief Inspector Jones not immediately locking Elise up seems to be a fairly big stroke of luck. So, even if Elise is in on the plan, it's still a whole lot riskier than it need be.

And then there's the question of how satisfying a movie it winds up being. Aside from Shaw and his gang being eliminated being a little out of the spirit of the typical caper movie - it basically graduates Alexander from thief (and one willing to pay his taxes!) to killer, if only by proxy - it leaves the characters without an arc. Instead of seeing Frank stepping up, shedding his timidity, it's just Alexander following through a plan. Instead of Elise falling for a good and honest man, she's going through the motions as well, if she's in on the plan. If she's not... Well, that's kind of scuzzy, isn't it? She's falling for a guy who doesn't really exist only to find out that he's her old boyfriend who has been lying to her - and she's apparently okay with that. It makes Frank/Alexander a pretty complete tool, as well.

That's why, with a little thought, this movie's plot pretty much falls apart for me. Either it's a story about a hollow con - in which case all the romance stuff is poor misdirection - or it's a romance with an ugly end. And no matter what, the plot involves getting yourself and your girlfriend shot at.

1 comment:

Charaze said...

I've read reviews that The Tourist was just so-so. But I'm still going to watch the movie coz of Angelina and Johnny.