Men follow Angelina Jolie in The Tourist. Men and cameras. They follow her — chic, coiffed, assless — through the streets of Paris. They follow her onto the train to impossible, floating Venice, where she heads on the instruction of her shadowy, fugitive lover. Eventually, they follow fellow passenger Johnny Depp as well, but mainly because he, too, begins trailing Jolie — just a little closer than the rest. Bringing up the rear is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the German-American director who chose to follow his Oscar-winning debut The Lives of Others with a different kind of surveillance thriller — an expensive, star-gazing Hollywood one.
Commitment issues had stars like Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron bowing in and out of The Tourist last year; von Donnersmarck himself reportedly left the project, returning just before shooting began. The studio eventually nailed down principles for their romance/action/wardrobe caper, a remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, but the deadly air of interchangeability lingers over its decadent design and almost defiantly fluffy plot.
Jolie plays Elise Clifton-Ward, an undercover British Interpol agent who, assigned to follow a wanted fugitive named Alexander Pearce, instead fell in love and "went dark," acquiring a Scotland Yard tail of her own. She's strutting through Paris and waiting for word from him when the film opens, a troupe of government-paparazzi snapping at her heels. Jolie channels Audrey Hepburn's look circa Charade — a clear, sparkling inspiration for much of the film — from her buggy sunglasses to her glass-cutting elbows, but the resemblance ends at the tips of her darling, side-swept bangs. Alternating between limpid and imperious, onscreen Jolie has become so caught up in her beauty that she seems frozen within it; her performance could easily pass for an extended, head-swiveling camera test. Depp filled out for his role as the hapless Wisconsin tourist Frank Tupelo, whom Elise targets for decoy purposes, and though he talks through his teeth and disappears into a boxy white tux, in smitten kitten mode he at least seems like a smushy good time.
Aesthetically, The Tourist is the equivalent of movie star hardcore, and I'm inclined to continue describing its creaturely comforts — Elise's hotel room is pre-stocked with gowns and jewels; the couple's courtly waltz at a lavish ball serves mostly as a comparative jawline study — in part because the narrative cliff beyond is steep and absolute. Tipped off by an Interpol leak, British gangster (Steven Berkoff) heads to Venice with his Russian henchmen to collect the billions that Elise's abandoned target Pearce randomly stole from him; Scotland Yard, headed by a maniacal buzzkill (Paul Bettany), is also after Pearce — for back taxes. "What is it he did, really?" purrs Timothy Dalton as an Interpol heavy, echoing my sentiments exactly. A big twist is meant to throw the "who cares" conceit and Depp and Jolie's reluctant tango into meaningful relief, but with no there there, a teasing minimum of scripted effervescence, and little chemistry to keep the leads on point, the plot just gimps around the harbors of Venice.
Four years ago, von Donnersmarck expressed dismay that Hollywood intended to remake his German-language breakout. Watching this pedigreed show pony saunter to the finish, I understood his fears.