Review: 'The Tourist'

A diverting but graceless adventure that nods to Hollywood's glory years but falls far short of them, "The Tourist" bears little trace of the thrilling subtlety shown elsewhere by the artists who created it.

Of its three screenwriters, Christopher McQuarrie wrote the twisty "The Usual Suspects." Another, Julian Fellowes, brought a rich host of characters to life in "Gosford Park."

But the real disappointment here regards co-writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose previous film was the engrossing German betrayal saga "The Lives of Others." Admirers of that Oscar winner might have expected his American debut to show similar ambition and nuance. Instead, we get something any Tinseltown journeyman could have made.

Angelina Jolie, looking as cartoonishly sexy as ever, enters the film with a pose and leaves that stance only to strut down Parisian sidewalks, long scarf bouncing from her hips like a red tail asking for attention she's already getting.

Her stupefying sexual power over men, in fact, seems to be Elise Ward's sole identifying characteristic. Even when the script makes revelations about her midway through, the main thing we learn is that Elise's new associates are as hot for her as the old ones.

A richer, though off-kilter, character is offered by Johnny Depp. Fleshier and more pasty than usual, Depp plays an American so desperately uncool (he's a math teacher, for Pete's sake) he smokes an electronic cigarette instead of a real one. (Anti-smoking activists will bristle at the scene in which Depp finds his swagger, in part, by firing up some genuine tobacco.)

Depp's Frank Tupelo might be a rube - confronted by Venetians speaking a foreign tongue, he instinctively breaks into pidgin Spanish - but there's a charm in his dull-wittedness. He knows something's not right when Elise approaches him on a train, deploying full-wattage charm, then drags him to a plush hotel suite in Venice. She has picked him as a decoy for her fugitive boyfriend, a man who stole vast sums and is being hunted by both Interpol and the gangster whose loot he took.

The ruse works, and soon Depp is being pursued by people who think he knows much more than he does - even as he falls madly (and perhaps mutually?) for the woman who got him into trouble.

This is classic Hitchcock territory, and the filmmakers acknowledge the debt. A chase across Venetian tile rooftops recalls "To Catch a Thief," a ballroom scene is observed from above as in "Notorious" (though not to the same effect).

But "The Tourist" never rises to the master's level; it's not even close. Depp works hard but is miscast, Jolie is all lips and hips and no charm, and their pursuers lack weight - both Paul Bettany's emasculated detective and Steven Berkoff's billionaire baddie, cobbled together from a thousand similar movie villains.

The movie's cat-and-mouse structure is solid, and its exotic setting keeps the eyes awake, but moviegoers had every right to expect much more from this pedigreed Euro-adventure.

"The Tourist"

Our grade: B-

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 102 min

MPAA rating: PG-13

Release Date: Dec 10, 2010