Two of the most glamorous stars in movies today, a legendarily beautiful location, a mistaken-identity mystery – who could object? Though all the elements in The Tourist appear lined up for an adventure tale to take us away from bleak winter, what should have sizzled fizzles.
The main responsibility goes to German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. This is his sophomore effort after his grimly impressive 2006 Oscar winner, The Lives of Others, about life under the East German police state. Obviously intent on making a change of direction, he seems to have lost his compass entirely in this long-in-the-making attempt at a suave, contemporary Hitchcockian pastiche.
Based on a 2005 French film, Anthony Zimmer, the plot here is a patchwork of improbabilities, which labours to distract from its cracks through star wattage and a superficial coat of polish. The results aren’t terrible, just curiously underwhelming given the movie’s potential.
Jolie appears first in a café scene in Paris as Elise, a suspect who’s being ogled by a van-load of English detectives (led by Paul Bettany) as she sashays down a street to get her morning coffee. She’s dressed like a runway model and wearing enough makeup to open her own Sephora outlet. Obviously, she’s in top-secret mode.
At the café, she’s passed a note from a wanted man named Alexander Pearce, burns it and departs. Fully conscious of the team of cops following her, she boards the train to Venice. She passes a series of men eating her up with their gazes as she moves down the first-class carriage before she settles on an empty seat opposite Frank (Depp), a humble math teacher from Wisconsin, apparently travelling through Europe to mend a broken heart.
Elise’s strategy is to throw the detectives off-track, but the wrong information also gets in the hands of another pursuer, an English psycho billionaire (Steve Berkoff, credibly menacing) and his gang of Russian goons, none of whom knows what the real Alexander looks like.
Through her innumerable costume changes Jolie provides a nice fashion shoot, but with her stiff English accent, and struggling under the weight of her eyelashes, she gives no evidence of a personality beneath the façade. Depp, looking slightly heavy and with an unflattering bouffant, is mildly amusing with his hesitations and fidgety mannerisms, but his performance feels untypically sluggish and indecisive.
Otherwise, the movie pads out its thriller plot with chase scenes – over red-tiled rooftops, or by speedboat through the canals – that work neither as action nor slapstick, no matter how emphatically James Newton Howard’s score tries to steer our responses. Over the course of the action, Elise gives Frank lessons on how to man up, and somehow we are led to believe they have fallen in love, without any discernible onscreen chemistry to support it.
The best that can be said for this misfire of a movie is that it lives up to its title. Veteran cinematographer John Seale ( Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley) shoots Venice beautifully, in aerial views or through the piazzas and waterways at night. Even Johnny and Angelina’s cheekbones don’t stand a chance competing with the view from the Grand Canal.
- Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
- Written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Julian Fellowes, and Christopher McQuarrie
- Starring Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany
- Classification: PG