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Word of Mouth: Depp and Jolie cross borders with ‘The Tourist’

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, A-listers who owe their popularity largely to action comedies such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” On Friday, the actors will sail into very different territory with “The Tourist,” an embezzlement drama with far less action and comedy than most of Depp and Jolie’s previous hits.

That kind of departure certainly isn’t unprecedented — prominent actors are forever jumping into roles that are miles from their most successful blockbusters. George Clooney, for example, moved from the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies to the art films " Michael Clayton,” “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and “The American.” But it’s much rarer that two high-profile actors of the caliber of Depp and Jolie — both of whom have made their share of highbrow fare — make a comparable switch in the same movie, especially a pricey production like “The Tourist.”

Loosely based on the 2005 French feature “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” stars Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward, a mysterious and impossibly elegant woman in Paris who is instructed to take a train to Venice. While en route, she approaches Depp’s shaggy math teacher Frank Tupelo, drawing him into an international plot involving the theft of $2.3 billion.

On their trail is a flummoxed British investigator ( Paul Bettany) and a vengeful crime boss ( Steven Berkoff) who aims to kill Clifton-Ward and capture Tupelo, convinced that he is actually an embezzler named Anthony Pearce.

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The film, the first movie directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck since his German espionage story and feature debut “The Lives of Others” won the foreign language Oscar in 2007, unfolds at an unhurried pace, with the first bit of action coming some 45 minutes into the movie.

“There is something beautiful to a pure genre film, but there’s also something very fun in combining various genres,” Von Donnersmarck told The Times earlier this year. “There’s always a risk if you combine genres because people don’t know what exactly they’re getting. I find that if they get these incredible actors, they know that they’ll be getting incredibly good acting, which is the most important thing in any film.”

Financed by producer Graham King for about $100 million after incentives and rebates, “The Tourist” showcases exotic overseas locations, but doesn’t have the major action set pieces of Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” films or Jolie’s “Salt,” “Wanted” or “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” The water taxis in the film’s big chase through Venice’s canals are hardly speedboats, and though Depp’s character gets a couple of clever lines, Tupelo’s wit can’t really match Jack Sparrow’s.

Jeff Blake, the chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution for Sony Pictures, says more appropriate comparisons for “The Tourist” are heist classics like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly’s “To Catch a Thief” and Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

“I think the film has a great mix of action and comedy and international locations,” Blake says. “I don’t think that it’s that far afield from the sweet spot of these two giant movie stars. It seems like a perfect Christmas audience movie, especially for couples.”

Audience tracking surveys suggest “The Tourist,” opening wide against the family adventure “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” is appealing more to older women than other audience segments. A new series of advertisements playing up the film’s limited action scenes should improve interest among men.

Sony hopes the film will open to more than $20 million in its premiere weekend, and then play strongly throughout the rest of the year — perhaps grossing as much as $100 million in its entire domestic theatrical run. The studio and audience tracking surveys suggest that “The Tourist” could double its U.S. receipts overseas, where media interest in the film is surging following last week’s Paris press junket.

Sony said it did not delay the film’s domestic media screenings until three days before its opening day because it was worried about negative reviews. Instead, the studio says, it wanted to preserve as much as possible a key plot twist that would ruin “The Tourist” if it became public.

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A number of actors had been linked to the project before Depp and Jolie, including Tom Cruise, “Avatar’s” Sam Worthington and Charlize Theron.

“Angelina is an actress I’ve always admired and it would have only been possible to do this role and this character with her,” Von Donnersmarck says. “I thought OK, who can you put as a costar next to Angelina Jolie? She’s so accomplished and elegant and smart. Who could match that in terms of elegance and wit? Johnny seemed like the perfect person.”

“The Tourist” shot in Paris and Venice from late February though May, at which point Depp left to begin work on the fourth “Pirates” movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

“I actually think that in a certain way, and they might vehemently disagree with this, but I think that Johnny’s character is as close to who he is in real life as anything he’s ever played and Angelina’s character is also as close to who she is in real life as anything she’s played,” the German-born director says.

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Von Donnersmarck says when he was asked before making the movie what earlier films “The Tourist” was most like, he was stumped.

“I couldn’t really name anything,” he says. “That was maybe a little disconcerting to people but at the same time, what is there that you can liken to ‘The Social Network’? What can you liken to ‘Inception’? I find that in a certain way, if people try to do something a little bit different, that can be very rewarding. Ultimately, Graham King and Sony saw it the same way, especially since both of the actors were really game for trying that out.”

john.horn@latimes.com

gina.mcintyre@latimes.com


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