Angelina Jolie in 'The Tourist'
Angelina Jolie in ‘The Tourist’

This is the precedent to The Tourist starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Officially, this is a crime thriller. Unofficially it’s a romantic comedy with a couple of Russian mobsters and some cat-and-mouse spy stuff thrown in.

It all started, they say, when he met a woman.

Jolie plays Elise, the extraordinary and beautiful girlfriend of a man named Alexander Pearce, who is a criminal wanted for embezzling $2 billion from a mobster. The British police have Elise under constant surveillance as they believe Pearce will make contact with her. The police want to collect the $775 million that’s owed to them in back taxes from the stolen money. The angry mobster wants Elise dead, Pearce captured, and his money returned.

In an effort to rendezvous with Peace and throw the police off the trail, Elise boards a train from Paris to Venice. While on-board she picks up Frank Taylor (played by Johnny Depp), an American math teacher from Wisconsin on his way to a vacation in Venice following the death of his wife. Through association and seduction, Elise convinces the police that this bumbling man from Wisconsin is Alexander Pearce in disguise.

Frank unknowingly becomes a target for everyone from mobsters to the Scotland Yard and is always two steps behind as the web of intrigue and romance builds around him. Shot against the backdrop of Paris and Venice, the romance between Elise and Frank quickly evolves as they find themselves thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Jolie first appears on-screen smartly dressed and waltzing up a Parisian street, a smile that says she knows she’s being watched. A red scarf is around her waist and knotted at the back, which twitches like a horse’s tail as she struts. She seems to be playing with the cops and there’s a feeling that we’re being set up for something great. But the build-up stops there and we’re left wanting more. The film waffles through most of its run, attempting to build tension but not quite getting there.

Jolie still kicks ass and drives speed boats away from bad guys, but she’s also languishing over a boyfriend, making her role in The Tourist feel mismatched for her. She has played Elise as calm and in control but it comes off as detached and icy. We are treated to many close-ups of her face and infamous lips, so if her performance or the Venetian scenery doesn’t do it for you those certainly will.

Depp is poorly cast as a dazed Midwesterner, and while he tries his best, he seems uncomfortable. It is the colourful nature of his characters (the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, for example) we’re so often drawn to, and here we’re asked to be convinced that he is average. The writers have given him a fake cigarette to suck on, though that is the only glint of the flamboyant Depp we know and love. Depp’s everyman seems bewildered in his role, leaving Jolie to pick up the slack. The lack of chemistry between them doesn’t allow this to happen and we’re left feeling an uncomfortable disconnect from plot to characterization.

The European director with the super-fun name, Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), has captured Venice and Paris beautifully. He has given us a world with remnants of the 1950s and there’s a timelessness to the characters outfits, their speech, and the fantastical world of Venice’s well-heeled socialites. With Donnersmarck on board and Jolie and Depp as leads this mix seems like a potent combination, but it just misses the mark. The action scenes are sluggish when they should punch, the leads seem indifferent when we’re to believe they’re falling in love, and there’s a sense of burden as the plot twists and turns.

The Tourist tries its best with two of our favorite actors. Try your best to play along.