The plot, settings, characters and costumes of “The Tourist” draw on early Hollywood, when studios gave surface treatment to their lead characters, representing love as a magic cure-all. The leads in romantic comedies and thrillers depicted an ideal — beautiful people inhabiting beautiful places — in service to studio belief that viewers needed a respite from everyday life.
Suspended British Interpol Agent Elise (Angelina Jolie) is beautiful and lonely. She begins her mornings taking tea, orange juice and a croissant at her usual cafe. She is shadowed by Scotland Yard’s Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) and a contingent of underlings, in hopes that Elise’s lover, wealthy thief Alexander Pierce, will contact her.
One morning Elise receives a cryptic note, and the race is on to formulate a tepid romantic thriller that could have been made in the late ’50s, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
Pierce, whose appearance is unknown due to recent plastic surgery, instructs Elise to board a train for Venice. During her journey she must find a man his size and shape, then persuade authorities that he is Pierce. She targets Frank (Johnny Depp), an unassuming Wisconsin math teacher on holiday.
While Frank is instantly smitten with this mysterious beauty, we are not. It’s difficult to empathize with a character that’s little more than a mannequin, despite being filmed at every one of her most complimentary angles.
Depp struggles to imbue Frank with the right mix of yearning and fear. The strength of his attraction compels him to pursue Elise despite being shot at, arrested and shackled. Importantly, these two stars need sufficient chemistry to persuade us that they can not help but fall in love.
It’s a tough sell since her attraction to the math teacher is unsupported and because Jolie and Depp approach their characters in entirely different ways.
Depp goes for realistic melancholy while Jolie seems to exist in some far away dreamland.
Real talent is wasted on even more superficial supporting roles. Rufus Sewell plays an omnipresent Englishman and Timothy Dalton carves out Inspector Acheson’s suave, pragmatic boss. Steven Berkoff stands in as a British gangster, racing authorities to catch up with Pierce.
A satiric approach might have worked for “The Tourist,” though witty dialog — not evidenced here — would be requirement No. 1. Slow-speed chases, straight-faced action and see-through plotting blunt this globe-trotting thriller that’s all work and no play. n