(by Dustin Putman
Airfare is expensive these days, and so too, usually, is the coup of hiring a pair of A-list Hollywood movie stars, but do these things alone dignify a $100-million budget? Not in the case of "The Tourist," an expensive studio dud that can't even be bothered to work up any detectable romantic chemistry between its attractive lead actors. Working from an empty-headed screenplay by writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2007's "The Lives of Others," taking a big step down from that Oscar-winning picture), Christopher McQuarrie (2008's "Valkyrie"), and Julian Fellowes (2004's "Vanity Fair"), thesps Angelina Jolie (2010's "Salt") and Johnny Depp (2010's "Alice in Wonderland") are left hopelessly adrift in an absurd piffle of an espionage plot that wouldn't be so bad if either of them had clever dialogue to speak or more substantial characters to play. Attractive location shooting in Venice and some gorgeous costumes, then, are the only potential saving graces, but if that's all audiences searched for in movies, wouldn't it better serve them to just stay home and watch the Travel Channel while flipping through the latest issue of Vogue? Article continues below
Elise Ward (Angelina Jolie) is a perfectly coifed lady of mystery, a Brit living in Paris who receives an urgent letter from her lover, a thief named Alexander Pearce, instructing her to travel to Venice and, on the train ride over, find a man of similar height and build to pose as him. She burns the note to a simmering pile of blackened flakes and ashes, but that doesn't stop Scotland Yard investigator Acheson (Paul Bettany) from piecing it back together in a matter of hours. En route to the Italian city of canals and gondolas, Elise picks out Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) as her mark. A math teacher from Wisconsin traveling Europe alone, Frank is bewitched by the elegant, enigmatic Elise—a feeling that doesn't escape him even after he's jumping across roofs and trying to evade the gunfire of a gangster (Steven Berkoff) hot on their trail.
There's mild intrigue at the onset of "The Tourist," with the classic setup of an everyman meeting a beautiful stranger carrying with her an ulterior motive (and on a train, to boot). A winking comment is made about this thriller convention, complete with the establishment that Frank is an avid reader of spy novels, but from there the film mostly plays things straight and derivative. Venice is exotically captured by cinematographer John Seale (2006's "Poseidon"), but all it really does is serve to make one wish he or she was watching 1973's Nicolas Roeg masterpiece "Don't Look Now," instead. As for the rest of it, there's little to hang on to. The story is rollerskate skinny and exceedingly transparent. The action, boiling down to some low-watt chase scenes, is overbearingly familiar. The interplay between Elise and Frank is sleepy and forgettable. The bad guys are next to interchangeable. Even the silly twist at the end is a non-event, so bereft of investment are we in these two ciphers that what happens to them makes no difference.
Stuck playing pawns rather than people, the cast's participation likely hinged on the fact that they got a nice vacation out of it. They certainly couldn't have signed on because of passion for their slim-to-nothing roles. Angelina Jolie wears her sleek, stylish clothes well and captures the proper accent and body language of her Elise, but there rarely appears to be anything going on underneath. Because Elise has to always put up a front to hide her real feelings and intentions, and because the flat script doesn't give her a chance to break this down for even a minute, Jolie never grows beyond her make-up, clothes, and ice queen demeanor. As Frank, Johnny Depp is miscast; the way he looks and has been styled is specifically European rather than the all-American guy he's supposed to be. Beyond that, Depp sleepwalks with his eyes open for the duration. As a big-screen couple, Jolie and Depp sound like a can't-miss combination, but the spark they share is roughly equatable to a firework dipped in a bucket of water. The less said about the supporting performers, the better; they are all in thankless parts offensively below their abilities.
"The Tourist" is a waste of time for everyone involved. The project, despite being long-gestating (Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron were at one time attached), was clearly not ready to go before the cameras when it did. In addition to all the glaring major deficiencies, even small details are the subject of annoyance. The subtitled dialogue, for example, is without periods at the end of sentences, but question marks and exclamation points are in abundance. It's a minor thing, but also egregiously sloppy. "You are the least down-to-earth woman I've ever met," Frank tells Elise at one point, speaking one of the only memorably good lines in the whole movie. He has a point. Elise is impossible to identify with, a wall built around her in desperate need of toppling down. When the film reaches its conclusion, you can't quite believe how little has happened in its 102 minutes. There is nary a thing to think about once it's over. If "The Tourist" were any less significant, it would simply evaporate from existence.