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Note to Casting Directors: Never Ask Johnny Depp to Pretend to Be Uncool

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 10, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 10, 2010 |

The Tourist is a jarring, tonally disjointed mess of a film, and maybe the biggest misfire of Johnny Depp’s otherwise mostly brilliant career. Depp has had a two-decade reputation for taking challenging or oddball roles, and even when he’s worked within the strict confines of the mainstream studio system (Pirates of the Caribbean ), he usually does something interesting with his characters, unless he’s in a Tim Burton flick, in which case he plays a variation of the same character. But at least that character is gothic or quirky or strange or likes to dress as a woman. The only thing different about his character in the tourist is how weirdly miscast he is for what is essentially a too-straight Disney comedy of remarriage minus the screwball.

You can almost see screenwriter Jullian Fellowes’ (Gosford Park, Tomorrow Never Dies) original intention here, a more sophisticated spy caper with a farcical edge, a film that would’ve come alive in between the plot points. You can envision it as a vehicle for a lot of fast-talking repartee, something along the lines of Tracy and Hepburn meets Ocean’s 11 with a few twists that the audience would’ve been let in on. But somewhere in between the multiple changes in director and principals (Sam Worthington, Alfonso Cuarón, Tom Cruise, Charlize Theron, and Lasse Hallström had been attached at different times) and the decision to bring in Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), all the personality of the film fell in between the floorboards, and the only thing left is a Johnny Depp doing a terrible impression of an uncool, dopey American tourist.

Note to casting directors of all future films: If you ever want someone to play an uncool dopey American, don’t hire one of the coolest men on the fucking planet. The central conceit — that Depp is playing a clueless foil — isn’t believable for a goddamn second, and to be honest, I’m not even certain anyone besides Angelina Jolie’s character is supposed to know that Depp’s character is not who he says he is. The original conception undoubtedly had a lot of winks at the audience, and McQuarrie must have been asked to come in and remove those winks. In either case, the audience knows what’s happening, but at least in the former, we know that they know we know. Here, we’re only left to wonder: “Do they think we’re fucking idiots?”

In short: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck turned what was probably a sophisticated spy caper into Herbie the Love Bug minus Herbie the Love Bug. It’s more like an episode of “Chuck” set to the score of “The Shaggy Dog” than a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and a bad episode of “Chuck” at that. It’s less a spy movie and more a family film, if you have a family full of morons.

Jolie plays Elise, a mysterious woman with a romantic history with another mysterious man named Alexander, a banker who ran off with $2.3 billion of a gangster’s money and disappeared for two years. All we know is that there are no photographs of Alexander, and that he had $24 million in plastic surgery. Both the aggrieved gangster and the authorities are after Alexander, the former to retrieve the cash and the latter because Alexander owes a lot in back taxes. The only connection to Alexander is Elise, who hasn’t seen him in two years, either, nor does she know what he looks like now.

Elise is left a note from Alexander to board a train, find a stranger with a similar build as Alexander, befriend him, and allow both the pursuing gangster and the authorities to draw their own conclusions. She befriends Frank (Depp), a timid, somewhat bumbling American tourist from Wisconsin who smokes electronic cigarettes. Once Elise kisses Frank and the gangster and the authorities (led by Paul Bettany) draws their conclusions, Elise ditches Frank, and the game is afoot.

However, the only game afoot here is the game of “How dumb do the filmmakers really think we are?” Angelina Jolie does an admirable job, and actually executes her role well, although there’s little asked of her besides to look regal and wear a flattering shade of lipstick. Von Donnersmarck even does her a solid by filming her mostly from the neck up, lest we’re left with the impression that Johnny Depp is being seduced by a bobble doll. It’s Depp that’s the weak link here, although it’s mostly a matter of miscasting. Depp is a great actor, but not even Depp can’t convince you that he’s not Satan if he has horns poking out of his hair and a pitchfork an inch into your ass. To be honest, an ass full of Depp’s pitchfork would’ve been a much more pleasant experience than watching The Tourist.