In 'The Tourist,' A Clumsy Game Of Cat And Mouse

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp

hide captionAverage Joe Meets Femme Fatale: Angelina Jolie, left, plays the mysterious Elise, who gets Johnny Depp's American tourist, Frank, into hot water when she leads her enemies to believe he is someone else.

Peter Mountain/Sony Pictures

The Tourist

  • Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • Genre: Drama/Thriller
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

Rated PG-13.

With: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell

 

Throw a ton of money, two marquee names, a glam Venice location and a prime holiday release at a filmmaker whose Hollywood reach exceeds his grasp, and what do you get? In all likelihood, better box office than The Tourist deserves, followed by a brisk DVD run and early oblivion.

In 2006, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck struck gold with The Lives of Others, a capably made, superbly acted bit of nonsense about a ruthless Stasi agent who converts to humanism after a revelatory afternoon spent listening to Mozart. The movie did well with audiences and won, among scores of other awards, an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, which in turn brought von Donnersmarck his first studio assignment. The result is The Tourist, an awkward jumble of half-assed thriller and lumbering romantic comedy, less competent by a wide margin than The Lives of Others. It's also a whole lot sillier, though not in a good way: von Donnersmarck, to put it charitably, has only the dimmest grasp of the fluid, breezy rhythms of a Hollywood action picture, and he seems ill at ease with the glitz required to carry off a studio love story.

Angelina Jolie's glamour doesn't need a lot of accessorizing, but just to be sure, Von Donnersmarck decks her out in Brigitte Bardot hair and Sophia Loren raccoon-eyes to play Elise, a mystery Brit with a passable command of French and Italian phrasebook greetings. She sits around fancy European cafes, smirking enigmatically, seemingly serene in the knowledge that she's under randy computer surveillance by assorted bumbling cops from European Interpol, supervised by a nervous nellie (Paul Bettany) in London.

For no apparent reason, Elise puckers up the famous Jolie lips and plants a lingering smooch on the lips of a dorky American named Frank, thus triggering what is commonly described in studio production notes as a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Gamely played by Johnny Depp in an unhelpful knave-of-hearts bob, Frank is, so he says, a math teacher from Wisconsin who's tooling around Europe to mend a broken heart.

Perhaps that's why, when confronted by La Jolie in a champagne negligee in a ritzy Venice hotel room, Frank spends the night on the couch in his striped jammies. Then: "You're ravenous," he tells Elise when she appears dolled up for dinner, only to confess that she too pines for a lost love. "Do you mean ravishing?" she asks. "I do," he replies, mouth agape. "You're ravenous," she says, and whisks him off to a candle-lit dinner.

Paul Bettany and Johnny Depp i i

hide captionMistaken Identity? Paul Bettany, left, plays Agent Acheson, who interrogates Frank (Johnny Depp) about what's up.

Peter Mountain/Sony Pictures
Paul Bettany and Johnny Depp

Mistaken Identity? Paul Bettany, left, plays Agent Acheson, who interrogates Frank (Johnny Depp) about what's up.

Peter Mountain/Sony Pictures

With banter like this — the script is credited to the very odd combo of von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects, and Julian Fellowes, who writes tony British costume dramas like Gosford Park the smart money perforce has to be on the plot. Enter the villain (Steven Berkoff), whom we know is up to no good by the fact that he is Steven Berkoff, by the murderous glint in his glassy blue eyes, by a sharp acceleration in the strings sawing away on the soundtrack, and by the whispered news that he "owns most of the casinos and brothels between here and Nervous Bisque." (Novosibirsk, I'm guessing.)

There follows a lot of inept scampering across scenic rooftops and toppling into the churning waters of the Venice canals as Frank and Elise fall in love, hotly pursued by posses of burly chaps talking into their wrists. Mostly, though, there's a lot of scenic boating with Elise in regal silhouette at the helm, and a swank ball or two with Elise in slinky silks and laces and stuff. In due course, it is revealed that no one is who or what they say they are, and we are invited to have a good-humored chuckle about that.

And really, there's not much more to say about a movie whose funniest line goes to a hotel desk clerk — except to suggest that before Mr. von Donnersmarck tries to make another thriller-slash-caper-slash-romantic-comedy, he may want to hunker down and watch either version of Ocean's Eleven.

Twice.

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