“The Tourist” looks at first glance to be too normal of a film to star Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Depp hasn’t played a sober, earthly character since 2004 (giving us brilliant and disturbing turns as Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, Sweeney Todd and Capt. Jack Sparrow along the way), and Jolie has of late been partial only to vain, moody roles (“Salt,” “Wanted,” “Beowulf”).
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And despite all the quirks infused by its two unconventional stars, and its beautiful (though aimless) gallivant through about three-fourths of the European Union, “The Tourist” turns out to be all too typical — bland, goofy and unremarkable.
Jolie plays Elise, a beautiful, mysterious woman being tailed by secret police agencies throughout Europe. We learn that she is tied to a financial mastermind who stole billions of dollars and then vanished into thin air. As police and mobsters stalk Elise in the hopes that she will lead them to him, she develops a sudden friendship with Frank Tupelo (Depp), a clueless American tourist in Italy. But is Frank more than he seems?
As is to be expected from a trite Hollywood production dressed up as classic, old-school noir, there are plenty of foreign accents, exotic backdrops and Russian mobsters here. There’s also enough of a failure to deliver on a decent premise to drop a line often used in classic criticism of old-school noir — it’s all cloak and no dagger. The action starts and stops with no particular regard for logical transition, and, for all the theatrics and “twists,” it’s not clear whether anything turns out differently from what one would predict in the first five minutes of the film.
Depp brings to this role an interesting willingness to play the everyman, something that’s quite unexpected from an actor who built his career playing the eccentric, borderline insane character. His setup is genuine and amusing enough, but clashes horribly with Jolie, who seems intent on taking the film — and the relationship of the two characters in the story — in the complete opposite direction. Cold, detached and distressingly formal, Jolie may just be playing the part as written, but it’s a failure in tone nonetheless.
Reminiscent of “The American,” a spy thriller starring George Clooney that debuted earlier this fall, “The Tourist” is a fancy shell with all-too-ordinary a core. The two films are also similar in having accomplished foreign directors — in this case, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) — whose prior successes are no doubt what attracted such big Hollywood stars to what turned out to be just average productions. We may deserve better from stars of this caliber, but then again, there’s quite a bustling market for empty productions with fancy, famous shells.