For a movie as dripping in glamour as The Tourist to work, the script needs to be so full of twists and turns that the audience never has a moment to catch their breath (think North by Northwest) or so witty and knowing that it's like we're being invited into a very cool party (Charade). Sadly, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's movie falls well short on both counts.
The film's entertaining first act hints at greatness that never develops. Elise (Angelina Jolie) sips tea and orange juice in her favorite Parisian cafe as agents from Scotland Yard -- led by the determined Acheson (Paul Bettany) -- monitor her every move. It seems her boyfriend, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune scamming criminals, owes 700 million pounds in back taxes. A courier delivers Elise a letter from her beau that orders her to take a train to Venice and, on the way there, find a man with the same build as he has and make the detectives tailing her believe that this patsy is him.
She does as instructed, selecting tourist Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin who is headed to Venice to get over the end of a relationship. They share some appealing banter on the train, and eventually Elise convinces him to stay with her at one of the city's most elegant hotels -- though he must sleep on the couch. The next morning, when the henchman of a powerful criminal who wants to take his money back from Elise's man show up ready to shoot Frank dead, an elaborate chase begins.
The most disheartening thing about The Tourist is that all the elements for a successful movie seem to be in place -- Venice looks lovely, Jolie and Depp are two of the most photogenic faces in movies, and the main bad guy (Steven Berkoff) is a menacing presence who hangs over the action even when he's not onscreen -- but the movie never takes flight.
It turns out that Depp and Jolie don't have much chemistry here, probably in part because Jolie is in love with another man for so much of the movie. Depp is playing it straighter than he usually does, underplaying some of the comedic elements that less conventional casting (maybe Paul Giamatti?) might have brought to the fore. While that isn't an inherently bad choice, it does make you wonder how the movie might play with someone not so uncommonly beautiful in his role.
The film has the sleek glamour of a Vanity Fair spread, but it's just as lifeless as a magazine. It's rare to find an actor as fearlessly quirky as Depp or one as erotically charged as Jolie in a film so dull. To have them together in something this boring seems impossible, but The Tourist manages exactly that.