Film Review: The Tourist

Plush star vehicle in which Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Venice easily overpower a familiar tale of international intrigue.

Three stars vie for screen time in The Tourist, an amiable but alarmingly slim piece of folderol. Sporting Madonna's British accent and toned to inhuman perfection, Angelina Jolie glides serenely through her scenes, confident in her ability to ignore obstacles like dialogue and plotting. As the world's least likely math teacher, Johnny Depp takes on the lion's share of acting duties, not quite so effortlessly as he once did. Venice, at least the city as presented by cinematographer John Seale, easily matches the nominal leads in beauty, mystery and appeal. Some viewers will lap The Tourist up like a Bellini. Even filmgoers expecting a bit more plot and action can't help but be seduced by so polished an entertainment.

Jolie, playing a femme fatale named Elise, opens The Tourist in Paris, where she is under observation by several police agencies because her boyfriend stole the equivalent of $2 billion without paying taxes. Or maybe French detectives just like ogling Elise as much as the filmmakers do. She gives her followers the slip and boards a train to Venice, where she has been ordered to find a sucker to impersonate her missing boyfriend.
Said sucker turns out to be Wisconsin math teacher Frank Tupelo, played by Johnny Depp as a mildly befuddled free spirit who's secretly mourning the death of his wife. Quickly under Elise's thrall, Frank submits to drinks, dinner, a suite in a luxury hotel, and a chaste night spent on a couch dreaming about Elise disrobing next door.

Meanwhile, forces assemble to trap Elise and her boyfriend, including British agent Acheson (an overmatched Paul Bettany), vicious gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), and Italian cops both honest and corrupt. Chases, captures and escapes follow, along with a modicum of romance and glimpses of Venice's dazzling secrets. It becomes necessary for Elise to attend a glittering ball in order to betray her lover before the principals can meet for a final confrontation.

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck gives little evidence here that his last film, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, was a small-scale character study about a conflicted member of the secret police in East Germany. The Tourist is an example of a kind of corporate filmmaking in which rough edges are polished to a gleaming, expensive sheen—the best fluff that money can buy. Picture James Bond without the adrenaline, or Charade without stars like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn. (Timothy Dalton, a former Bond himself, shows up as a beleaguered agent trapped in a desk job.)

Those who like their escapist entertainment soothing rather than exciting or thought-provoking will find little at fault with The Tourist, unless it's the sight of Jolie maneuvering her way through the Metro in three-inch stiletto heels. Still, it's too bad no one had the heart to rock the gondola a little.