By Brian Orndorf
A throwback of sorts to an era of star-driven cinema, “The Tourist” doesn’t have to supply much of an effort to keep eyes glued to the screen. With Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie securely fastened in the starring roles (Jolie’s pillow lips take a supporting credit), all that’s left is expensive make-up and incredible costumes, the rest should fall into place with ease. For better or worse, there’s a caper to decode at the heart of the film, which often gets in the way of the pretty people doing pretty things. It’s interesting to note that even the director recognizes the futility of a plot, making a grand push to turn this postcard into a knockout punch, yet failing to make much of an impression beyond superficial thrills.
With her lover in hiding, chased by mobsters and law enforcement officials for stealing billions of dollars, Elise (Angelina Jolie) has been instructed to select a lookalike companion to help distract interested parties. On a train to Venice, she picks up Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin on vacation to clear his weary mind. While the pair strike up a connection, Frank can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the mystery woman’s interest, which eventually leads him into trouble once the cops and crooks locate the duo. Facing the wrath of gangster Ivan (Steven Berkoff), the obsession of Agent Acheson (Paul Bettany), and the silky temptation of Elise, Frank finds himself sucked into trouble, falling for his enigmatic companion while narrowly escaping various attempts on his life.
A remake of the 2005 French film, “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” has been beefed up for its American equivalent. While the core of the feature concerns traditional mysterious happenings, a sea of red herrings, and a few chases, most of the attention is placed on the leads. Ordered to carry the film with their inherent smolder, director Florian Henckle von Donnersmark (“The Lives of Others”) leans on Depp and Jolie quite extensively throughout the picture, trusting their charms will be enough to bolster the sex appeal and noirish squints of the material. It’s a solid bet to make, as both actors commit low-key, but comforting work as the tangled duo, with Jolie turning on the glamour high beams to communicate Elise’s command over all men, cutting through the scenery like cherry-lipped royalty, making Depp’s performance of astonished reactions amusing for its reality.
While always brewing intrigue, “The Tourist” spends the first hour gradually shaping the relationship between Elise and Frank, delighting in the thawing ice and burgeoning attraction. The film is best served in the Hitchcockian simmer, leaving the viewer to decide the true motivation behind the pairing as the action heads to the splendor of Venice, a place of European majesty that fits the ‘60s mood summoned here, reinforced heartily through outstanding work from cinematographer John Seale and composer James Newton Howard. For a brief shining moment, the film is all sunsets, cocktails, and flirtations. Leave it to the plot to ruin everything.
It’s not necessarily an unpleasant routine of twists and turns contained in the screenplay, it’s just all anemically executed by the director, who drags “The Tourist” down in the final act, paying off the numerous interested parties with an absolute absence of tension. There should be more of a lunge to Elise’s identity, along with Frank’s incredulity, but a vice-like hold of suspense never materializes. The performances from the supporting roles also lack personality (Bettany is a real lump of coal in the film), further reinforcing the limp of the climatic showdown.
Puzzling identities, double-crosses, and rooftop chases? Perhaps. “The Tourist” is far more compelling in a playfully sensual state, fixating on chemistry rather than uninspired thriller mechanics.