Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others was a lot of things: extraordinarily well-plotted and acted; a quiet thriller played at the highest of stakes; a chilling record of the fear and paranoia that gripped East Germany under the Stasi. What it was not, however, was a particularly dazzling piece of filmmaking, which makes von Donnersmarck precisely the wrong guy to direct The Tourist, a cosmopolitan trifle along the lines of Charade or Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. Pulling off a movie like this requires a director with the style to complement the glamorous stars, snappy dialogue, and ravishing, travel-book images of European locales. (2009’s underrated Duplicity is a sterling modern-day example.) But von Donnersmarck’s meat-and-potatoes direction makes The Tourist astonishingly lifeless and awkward, reducing two of the world’s biggest movie stars to something akin to shy, pimply teenagers on their first date.
Scripted by von Donnersmarck and two ringers, Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), The Tourist advances a classic Hitchcock “wrong man” premise. Angelina Jolie plays a lovely, mysterious woman whose boyfriend has stolen hundreds of millions from a gangster. Summoned to Venice for a rendezvous with the thief, Jolie tries to shake the Interpol officers and thick-necked mobsters on her tail by taking up with a stranger who resembles her boyfriend. Of course, that stranger, a Wisconsin schoolteacher played by Johnny Depp, happens to fall in love with Jolie, just as some very dangerous characters mistake him for another man.
And so begins a frothy thriller at half-pace, with a sluggish rooftop chase scene to make no one forget The Bourne Ultimatum and the expected speed-boating through the Venetian canals, which here seem only a hair faster than the gondolas. The script occasionally supplies some tart one-liners for Depp or Jolie, but the chemistry isn’t there, mainly because Jolie is treated as more as sleek object than human, and Depp looks plainly disengaged—when he announces that he loves her, we’re just as surprised as she is. No one seems to be having any fun in The Tourist, and they’re all stuck going through the motions.