'Tourist' Tracking Softly Despite Jolie, Depp Star Power

 Sony Pictures

What's wrong with this picture?

Sony's first release under a distribution pact with Graham King's GK Films unspools Friday, boasting two of the world's biggest movie stars in Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Yet The Tourist might struggle to open with even $20 million.

King moved his production label to Sony last year, replacing a previous distribution arrangement with Warner Bros. Under the deal, GK covers all production outlays while Sony covers prints and advertising costs and handles most worldwide distribution in exchange for a distribution fee in the low double-digit percentages.

So if Tourist -- which cost roughly $100 million to produce -- fails to perform, King's company, and not Sony, will take it on the chin.

Execs at both companies say they are unconcerned about soft must-see sentiment expressed in prerelease tracking surveys and suggest that the action thriller will do well during the length of its theatrical run even if it doesn't debut impressively.

The holiday season generally produces a sleeper hit or two. Also, adult-targeting movies are often leggy as older moviegoers take longer to support films.

The only other wide opener set for this weekend is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from Fox and Walden Media, a family fantasy expected to top the weekend with perhaps $35 million-$45 million. No other adult-oriented thriller has opened wide in recent weeks, and there is little peril of audience overlap for Tourist.

So how does one explain the low prerelease interest? Some -- as usual -- blame marketing materials, while others said the A-list casting can't mask a tired concept.

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Tourist has Depp's character traveling to Venice to get over a recent breakup and getting involved with Jolie's sultry Interpol agent.

"But the problem may be that he doesn't have green eyes and a cap on his head or scissors for hands," an industryite offered. "If you think about it, Depp's most successful roles have always had him playing oddballs."

As for Jolie, her most recent outing came in July with the action thriller Salt, a $118 million domestic grosser.

Despite the proximity to that middling performance, The Tourist has gotten wide media coverage, helped by Jolie's pairing with Depp. Sony secured cover stories in USA Weekend, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and Vanity Fair, helping to spread awareness of the film among prospective patrons.

But the biggest problem for GK involves the movie's talent-bloated production budget, which surely requires a domestic run of $150 million-$200 million just to reach break even on the picture.

Helpfully, Tourist is expected to over-perform internationally, much in the manner of Salt, which rung up an outsize $175 million in foreign lucre.

"The movie played gangbusters at the premiere," a company insider said. But the real measure of success begins Friday at the nation's multiplexes.

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