Travel guides—even the best of 'em—can't tell you everything.
Oh, sure, they're fine if you just want to know how many euros that bistro down the street will run you, or where the bus stops are, or whether you need to bring a pocketful of change for the nearest public toilet.
But they always miss the really important details.
For instance, let's say you're a nondescript, unmarried American male math teacher on a train to Venice for vacation: How should you react if a beautiful, mysterious woman sits down across from you and starts flexing her large, painted lips? Does your guidebook have that eventuality indexed somewhere?
And then, let's say that once you reach Venice, the same beautiful, mysterious woman asks you to spend the night (on the couch) in her fabulous canal-side suite. How is a traveler to handle that? And where's the advice for what to do the next day when, instead of finding that beautiful and mysterious woman waiting for you, you find a hot breakfast and a couple of men with guns? Does your guidebook tell you which way to run on page 79? Does it hint at whether you're allowed to eat first or not on 218? Does it say how much of a tip you're supposed to leave the gunmen on 344?
Frank Tupelo finds all of this out the hard way. Still wearing his pajamas, Frank does what most of us would do if we were suddenly confronted by two men who start shooting through the bathroom door: He panics. And he jumps out the window, leaping about the rooftops of Venice.
His guidebook doesn't tell him to, but Frank still falls head over heels for Elise, the enigmatic stranger he meets on the train. Elise also finds herself somewhat taken by Frank. So they spend much of the film saving each others' lives, and what could be more positive (or romantic) than that?
We also see a tip-top work ethic modeled by Inspector John Acheson, an English law enforcement type who hopes to haul in Elise's one-time lover, Alexander Pierce. It was Alexander who stole 2.3 billion British pounds from a notorious gangster, and so technically he owes the British government about 744 million pounds in back taxes. Acheson, with very little encouragement from his boss, makes it his mission to bring Alexander to justice.
Elise wears a bracelet bearing the symbol of the two-faced Roman god Janus—a gift from her mother and a reminder that everyone has two sides to them: "We must embrace them both in someone we love," she says.
Gangster Reginald Shaw says that he'll not just kill the person who stole from him, but their spouses, their children, their mothers and possibly their family doctors too. Why? Because he paid what he calls the "infinite price" for his ill-gotten gains: "My soul."
We learn that Elise spent a year living with Alexander. She and Frank kiss thrice—and all three are pretty passionate smackers. When Elise tells Frank he'll need to sleep on the couch outside her bedroom, he considers barging into her room anyway—going so far as to turn the bedroom doorknob. Elise watches the knob turn as she undresses (we see her lacy underwear) and seems to wish Frank would walk in on her … but Frank changes his mind and goes back to the couch. There he dreams he walks in on her and gives her a kiss.
Elise wears a bevy of glamorous outfits—many of which bare her shoulders, showcase her breasts and/or accentuate her curves. When she's walking down the street, the surveillance team tailing her focus on her rear as they giggle over whether she's wearing underwear that day.
Characters get slapped, punched, chased, shot at and occasionally knocked around with various maritime instruments (a life preserver and the underside of a boat). A police officer gets accidentally pushed into a canal. Frank is dragged behind a boat.
More intense is a scene in which an unfortunate thug gets strangled with a tailor's measuring tape.
We hear that Shaw killed all his wife's lovers and, when he learned how many she had, he killed her too. He threatens Elise with a knife, trailing it menacingly across her face and lips. Several people are killed by snipers in a climactic but essentially bloodless finale.
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words, two s-words and a smattering of milder curses including "a‑‑," "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "bloody." God's name is misused at least three times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Elise first meets Frank, he's puffing on an e-cigarette—an electronic device that gives users a hit of nicotine while appearing to be a real cigarette. (The end lights up with an orange LED, and water vapor curls from the end like smoke.)
"That's disappointing," Elise says when Frank tells her what the thing is. Frank asks her whether she wishes he smoked for real, and she says, "I'd rather you be a man who did exactly as he pleased." So, later, Frank does smoke a real cigarette. We see other characters light up too.
Elise and Frank imbibe wine, champagne and mixed drinks.
Other Negative Elements
Inspector Acheson's investigative focus is so narrow that he rarely thinks of the innocents who might be harmed in his pell-mell attempt to nab Alexander.
[Spoiler Warning] Frank and Elise make off with Shaw's money and sail off into the sunset. They leave behind a check made out to the British government for 744 million pounds, which prompts Acheson's boss to close the case. Acheson still wants to see justice served, but he's told that the money's really all the department wanted.
We see some gangster cronies play poker.
Frank tells Elise that where he comes from it's complimentary to call someone "grounded." We Americans, apparently, are no-nonsense types who respect folks who are down to earth.
But Frank says he's tired of that. "You are the least down-to-earth person I ever met," he dreamily tells Elise.
The Tourist, much like Elise, is completely untethered from what most of us would recognize as reality. This movie is a breezy affair bearing little grit, no grime … and no point. Just exciting chase scenes and loving looks and befuddled cops.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director and a co-writer for The Tourist, may have hoped it would feel a bit like an old-school Alfred Hitchcock film. And to some extent, it does. The intrigue, the exotic locales, the chilly femme fatale and the seemingly bewildered everyman, they're all onscreen. Even the restraint the film shows in the sex and violence departments—while indulging glamorous depictions of drinking and smoking—makes the film feel like a 1950s throwback.
'Course, most of Hitchcock's works managed to keep you guessing while the mystery was in progress and made sense when it was solved. Those are items The Tourist didn't pack in its luggage. It boasts some heavy-duty star wattage but never shakes its dim storyline. This is a two-hour escape from reality where the most meaningful thing we see is the closing credits.