Romantic comedies are inescapable. They’re in theaters, on streaming services, and on cable channels all year round. And we wouldn’t have it any other way, right? We may know what to expect but that doesn’t make the happy ending less enjoyable. Usually. Netflix’s new rom-com A Tourist’s Guide to Love could use more spark outside of the expected formula but it still qualifies as a comfortable time filler.
It’s good when the lead actress in a romantic comedy already has rom-com cred, and with the ’90s teen classic She’s All That on her resume, Rachael Leigh Cook certainly has that. Her experience is in contrast with her co-star here. Scott Ly plays her love interest, and this is his first lead role. The plot their characters find themselves in is a typical one, and it incorporates a recent trend in the genre: the travelogue. Often, if a rom-com doesn’t have a holiday setting, then it probably involves the main character jetting off to an exotic destination. This provides a literal physical journey for the character at the same time as they experience an emotional one. And gorgeous locations to shoot in as well.
A Tourist’s Guide to Love does have that beautiful setting and a degree of harmless charm but it is missing a certain personality or chemistry to make it distinctive.
“Life is so short, why waste it on escape?”
Cook plays Amanda Riley, an executive at a global travel company based in Los Angeles, Tourista Travel. After 5 years with John (Ben Feldman), she thinks he’s about to propose. Instead, he’s putting their relationship “on hiatus” for a job in Ohio. It’s such an unpleasant shock that Amanda’s boss, Mona (Missi Pyle), puts her on assignment in Vietnam. Amanda is going undercover to check out a local tour company Tourista might buy.
The tour guide who meets Amanda at the airport is Sinh, played by Ly. And, yes, it’s pronounced “sin,” as in what he makes her want to do. At least, eventually, after they get to know each other. First, Sinh is busy proving what a good tour guide he is by getting Amanda’s suitcase back when the airline loses her luggage. (He “knows a guy.”) Sinh’s local expertise makes for a good and informative tour, such as when he instructs Amanda on how to haggle at a market.
His skills take another step up when he proves to be quick on his feet when responding to problems. A sold-out attraction is no problem for Sinh, he just detours the group to a nearby set of beautiful ruins. The guy clearly cares about his culture and sharing it with others. And doing so for his family’s business, of course, which causes a problem for Amanda as she evaluates the tour company for her company.
“Our traditions don’t mess around.”
Amanda begins to feel attraction for Sinh, which means she also begins to feel guilt about hiding her real purpose in Vietnam from him. This conflict feels flimsy from the start. Sinh’s family hasn’t told him the business is being sold in the first place, so that’s a factor too. And then the writers introduce another questionable problem when John decides to show up on the tour and get Amanda back. Do you really need BOTH of these things going on? I feel like developing one of them better would have been a stronger story.
Of course, Amanda gets closure with John and ends up in Sinh’s arms. The resolution is never in jeopardy. Some differences in execution could’ve made it more satisfying, though. The biggest thing is that the chemistry between Cook and Ly could be stronger. The styling does a good job of presenting how attractive these two people are. Sinh gets a James Bond moment, rising out of the water shirtless. And Amanda’s vacation wardrobe is full of things I would buy and wear. It just feels like there’s less heat here than in some onscreen pairings.
Amanda’s emotional growth feels very standard, too. The destination and hot guy could be swapped for others and she would learn the same thing, essentially. Even so, A Tourist’s Guide to Love is a decent and watchable use of an hour and a half.
3 stars out of 5
A Tourist’s Guide to Love is streaming on Netflix.