Take two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood — Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp — stick them in a luscious vintage-feel caper set in some of the world's most photogenic cities — Paris and Venice — and let the audience feast on this cornucopia of beauty and charm. We were certainly excited by the early glimpses, but sadly The Tourist turns out to be one hot (OK, extremely hot) mess. So what went wrong?
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, as well as having a brilliant name (as we've commented on before), is a very, very bright man. Esquire interviewed him in 2006 when his astonishing writing and directorial debut The Lives Of Others, an utterly captivating Stasi-era melodrama, was released. He was charming, funny and intelligent — everything that The Tourist, for the most part, is not. Understandably von Donnersmarck fancied a change of pace for his sophomore film, but by wholeheartedly replacing intrigue and emotion with fun and froth, you can't help feeling that he's throwing the baby out with the rose-petaled bathwater.
The film opens, at least, on familiar ground. A surveillance operation is taking place, though rather than the drab spaces of the Eighties' German secret police operations, we're in a state-of-the-art van in Paris, filled with hopelessly handsome French policeman who look like they may be midway through an appearance in a Stella Artois ad. Their cameras are trained on Elise Clifton Ward (Jolie), the exquisite girlfriend of Alexander Pearce, a rogue British banker who has gone underground with several hundred million pounds belonging to his former gangster boss Reginald Shaw (played by a sleepwalking Steven Berkoff) and a few more that the Inland Revenue wouldn't mind getting their hands on. The police know that the couple won't stay apart forever — and hope to gatecrash their reunion.
Elise's chic Parisian cafe breakfast is interrupted by a courier-delivered note from her mysterious lover (written, judging by the jolly, exclusively capital letters, by a 12-year-old amanuensis) instructing her to board a train to Venice. Next, she must enlist a hapless joe with a similar look and build to Pearce (who, it is reported, has undergone radical facial plastic surgery), so that the police will trail this wrong man, and Elise and Alexander can be reunited in secret. The man she picks is Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a Wisconsin maths teacher who is travelling to Venice alone for foggy, failed-romance reasons. Resistance to Elise's powers are futile: before he knows it Frank is holed up in the Doge's suite of the ultra-luxurious Danieli Hotel; another heartbeat later he is being chased by Shaw's Russian henchmen across terracotta-tiled rooftops in his jim-jams.
The film unfolds into an old-fashioned romp around Venice as the various aggrieved parties, not only Shaw but Paul Bettany as a Met policeman who has made recapturing Pearce into something of a personal odyssey, do their best to capture the unwitting Frank. There's a bizarrely flat chase scene through the canals, an odd sub-Scorsese murder when Shaw demonstrates his brutality to his flat-nosed heavies while being measured up by his tailor, and a damp squib of a finale where the loose ends tie up in a fashion that is neither surprising nor delightful.
Jolie is, as you would expect, an alluring presence — all ruby-lipped and wet-eyed — and she sashays through the film in a selection of clingy dresses with a knowing smile that smacks of self-satisfaction. Depp on the other hand, does a good job of looking schlubby — a little too good in fact, he seems to be channeling Jay Rayner — so that the inevitable romantic tension is impossible to buy. The script, co-authored by Gosford Park's Julian Fellowes, was apparently "funnied-up" once Depp came on board; there are some nice comic moments when he speaks to the Italian police and hotel staff in his finest Spanish (though by the third or fourth time the joke is made one wonders if the script, like Frank, might have been obliged to try a bit harder).
By the time the whole hoo-ha comes to a close you are left — not bored exactly, and not angry — more baffled. Baffled that a director and stars of such calibre can have thought it was all such a good idea, baffled that all concerned manage to see it through with a certain amount of conviction, and baffled at the thought of who might come away from it feeling satisfactorily entertained.
The Tourist is out today