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What’s served under a label promising first-class champagne tastes like last night’s prosecco in The Tourist. Staggeringly misjudged in virtually every department, from the wannabe effervescent script to Johnny Depp‘s dopey hairdo, this zero-chemistry pairing of Angelina Jolie and Depp stands as an object lesson in the perils of succumbing to the siren call of big-time Hollywood filmmaking for a foreign director with one art house hit behind him. The publicity machine will work overtime to drum up some initial business, but this Sony release promises to drown in a bog of its own making.
After receiving near-universal acclaim and a foreign-language film Oscar for his 2006 debut feature, The Lives of Others, a quietly riveting suspense drama set in East Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who grew up partially in the U.S. and speaks perfect English, was inundated with offers from all quarters but wanted to choose carefully. After such a long delay, for him to have finally settled on this trifling romp over the rooftops and in the canals of Venice is stupefying to say the least and will give plenty of ammunition to the small band of detractors of his earlier outing. GALLERY: Jolie’s Tourist style.
Embalmed in makeup and elegant gowns that puts one in mind of Loretta Young and employing a reserved English accent that allows no possibility of genuine emotional expression, Jolie plays Elise, the object of many men’s attention in the opening scenes, which is no surprise even though the men in question are all surveillance experts intent upon following her every move in the hope she’ll lead them to her criminal lover, one Alexander Pearce. After she receives a note instructing her to take a morning train from Paris to Venice, the chase is on, and she knows it.
With every guy on board keen for Elise to sit next to them, she instead gloms on to the scruffy, rather forlorn-looking Frank Tupelo, a mild-mannered math teacher from Wisconsin. Baffled and unnerved by her attentions, Frank is thoroughly unequipped to partake in the kind of witty, insinuating dialogue expected in stories of train-bound intrigue. Not that Donnersmarck, having revamped previous scripts by the estimable Julian Fellowes and Christopher McQuarrie, has written any. But it’s woefully clear from their first scene together that, not only is there nothing clicking between the stars, but that the entire enterprise is madly artificial and silly, that whatever games are being played here are not going to be fun. RELATED: Tourist tracking softly.
Donnersmarck, along with his multitude of producers, must have dreamed that, with two of the most glamorous and best-looking stars in the business, he had a shot of making a modern Hitchcock romantic thriller along the lines of The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest. Well, dream on. No one here evinces the slightest feel for that sort of sly sophistication. Instead, we get tiresome scenes of the hapless Frank, who’s presumed to be the much sought-after Alexander, being pursued by goons of a Scotland Yard contingent led by Paul Bettany and by those of a gangster tycoon (Steven Berkoff) from whom Alexander stole a fortune and who you’d believe to be Russian but for his British accent.
Least accountable of all is the growing affection Elise seems to be feeling for the ineffectual Frank. Or is she pretending? One minute she invites him into her sumptuous suite at the Danieli, the next she makes him sleep on the couch. After telling him to go home and dropping him at the airport, she then dances with him at an elegant ball. But no matter as the film manages to build nary a trace of interest in either character.
Looking puffy and unassertive, Depp never has registered less effectively in his entire film career. For Jolie’s part, the nature of her role doesn’t allow her to show her hand to anyone, severely limiting the extent of characterization. This is where wit and lively banter would come in handy, but this is more difficult to appropriate from old movies than is format.
Surely Donnersmarck did not set out to remake Death in Venice, but artistically, that is what has been achieved.
Release date: Friday, Dec. 10 (Sony)
Production: GK Films, Columbia Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Birnbaum/Barber
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff, Rufus Sewell, Christian De Sica
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenwriters: Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes
Producers: Graham King, Tim Headington, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman
Executive Producers: Lloyd Phillips, Bahman Naraghi, Olivier Courson, Ron Halpern
Director of photography: John Seale
Production designer: Jon Hutman
Costume designer: Colleen Atwood
Editors: Joe Hutshing, Patricia Rommel
Music: James Newton Howard
PG-13, 104 minutes
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