German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who won an Oscar for The Lives of Others) went to Hollywood, gathered the essential elements for a sexy caper film—including stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie—and emerged with The Tourist.
Just as long as nobody expects The Tourist to be in any way special, nobody will be disappointed. It’s an inoffensive, mediocre diversion—European intrigue lite.
We begin in Paris, with Elise (Jolie), a variously wanted woman, being surveilled by a van full of Frenchmen on behalf of Scotland Yard. The Brits—played by Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton—have been trying to track down her notoriously elusive husband, a shadowy chameleon with a steep unpaid tax bill and a knack for pilfering mob money. And while they watch, she gets a note from him, instructing her to board a train for Venice and to “find someone my height and build and make them believe it is me.”
So she finds Frank (Depp), a handsome American, who says he’s a math teacher. She says she bets he’s the cool math teacher. Still, he says, a math teacher. So this is how it’s going to be. Gamely, they flirt, each allowing a gradual seduction to begin. Then it becomes evident that some other people want to go through Elise to get to her husband, too—namely, the mobsters he robbed, presided over by movie-villain veteran Steven Berkoff.
All the while, there is the perplexing matter of who this husband really is. Scotland Yard suspects the hapless tourist Frank, then reconsiders. For that matter, there is the matter of who this Elise really is. She seems unusually adept at luxe capering.
The same can’t be said for the movie. Obviously it’s supposed to be a glamorous romantic thriller in the manner of the classic Charade, comparisons to which do The Tourist no favors. Maybe it’s kinder to compare it to Jérôme Salle’s 2005 film Anthony Zimmer, of which it is a remake. But that only advances the unsettling implication that between The Tourist and The Next Three Days, French procedural thrillers have supplanted Swedish ones as hot as fodder for half-hearted Hollywood imitation.
Here, the Oscar-winning but otherwise barely vetted director von Donnersmarck, co-writing with Valkyrie’s Christopher McQuarrie and The Young Victoria’s Julian Fellowes, assembles all the necessary elements, but can’t maintain the spark of life. His film is strangely languid. Maybe it thinks it’s luxuriating. Or maybe it has assumed its audience is rather slow on the uptake.
Anyway, at the center of it all is Depp, ever appealing as the glamorous goofball. But as the title suggests, it could have been anyone.