There is a moment in “The Tourist” when Johnny Depp turns to Angelina Jolie and asks “Why is all this happening?” It’s a question moviegoers will be asking themselves as well.
Lured into theaters by the pairing of the most seductive film stars working today, audiences will be nonplussed to discover a not particularly thrilling thriller about mistaken identity that doesn’t come close to living up to expectations.
Adapted by a bunch of high-profile screenwriters (three are credited but there were reportedly more) from the 2005 French film “Anthony Zimmer,” about an ordinary man drawn into an extraordinary world, “The Tourist” is so lacking in pace, involvement and excitement that by the time its numerous plot twists materialize we can’t be bothered to care.
Even the presence of director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (one of the credited writers along with Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes) doesn’t make a difference. It is not given to everyone to direct frothy caper movies, and by the evidence here the capable Von Donnersmarck, who did the excellent, Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others,” is not one of the elect.
Probably the most surprising factor in “The Tourist’s” underperformance is the startling lack of chemistry between Depp and Jolie. Any film in which the stars connect more intensely on the poster than on the screen is in a world of trouble, and a combination of Jolie playing dress-up and Depp doing dressed down dooms their connection.
“The Tourist” begins in Paris with a crack French surveillance team focusing its attention on one Elise Clifton-Ward. As played by Jolie in a series of drop-dead outfits, the femme-fatale-and-a-half Elise is less the flesh-and-blood woman Evelyn Salt was and more a well-dressed mannequin who wears clothes better than she engages emotions.
Though she doesn’t look particularly dangerous, Elise has caught the eye not only of the French police but also of Scotland Yard’s Financial Crimes Division and even Italian Interpol. That’s because her inamorato, Alexander Pearce, is a financial wizard who is wanted in 14 countries and has ruffled feathers around the world with his fiscal chicanery.
Since no one knows what Alexander looks like, he has concocted a plan to throw the police off his trail. He instructs Elise to take the high-speed TGV to Venice, select someone on the train who shares his height and build and try to persuade the world’s police that this harmless nobody is the great financial wizard.
Since Depp, looking bearded and intentionally frail, is the only movie star on the Venice train, Elise picks him for the task. Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Wisconsin who is such a timid, unworldly type he tries to be understood in Spanish when he’s in Italy.
Depp may be Heartthrob No. 1 for many moviegoers but his soul is the soul of a character actor, and given half the chance he will flee playing the classic romantic lead. “The Tourist” gives Depp the excuse he needs to hide his formidable charisma, but his insistence on underplaying Frank has a paralyzing effect on the on-screen connection between his character and Jolie’s.
So even though Elise more or less adopts Frank, even letting him stay in her suite, her interest in him is never less than implausible. And when Frank finds himself thrown into a dangerous world of cut-throat killers and international intrigue, his unforeseen ability to cope is not particularly convincing either.
Because neither Depp nor Jolie bring real juice to the proceedings, it is left to the supporting characters to provide what energy the film has. Both Steven Berkoff as the gangster Pearce stole $2.3 billion from, and Paul Bettany as the British police inspector who wants to collect a $744-million tax bill are strong but to little effect. They do their best, but they swim against a tide of lethargy that will not be denied.