THE TOURIST is a leisurely thriller, more interesting than heart-stopping, with an unfortunate tendency to stall. Designed to showcase the good looks and star quality of its Venice locations, and of its stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, it is a picture postcard of a flick.
At its center is a bait-and-switch caper devised by one Alexander Pierce, a criminal mastermind who has made off with millions from a gangster, Alexander Shaw (Steven Berkoff), who is not at all happy about it. Also unhappy is the British government, specifically, its tax division, which would like the hundreds of millions of pounds Pierce owes on his ill-gotten gains. Even more specifically unhappy is Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany), a mid-level functionary deeply invested in bringing Pierce and his back-taxes in, and deeply disturbed with a buttoned-down but palpable fuming, when his bean-counting supervisor (Timothy Dalton) decides that the cost benefits of Achesons operation dont add up. Naturally, that doesnt stop xxx from pursuing the case, more or less off the books.
The caper itself involves Clifton-Ward (Jolie), Pierces girlfriend, finding a random stranger on a train from Paris to Venice, one that generally fits Pierces build and height, and make the people watching her believe that its him. That man turns out to be Frank Tupelo (Depp), a mousy college math professor from Wisconsin, a man given to reading spy novels and anything but suave when a stunning siren in haute-couture slithers up to him and invites herself into his life. Or rather, insinuates him in hers, sharing her 5-star suite, though not her bed, with him. Trouble arrives soon enough, as Shaw shows up in Venice looking for revenge and with his Russian gangsters as muscle, become far more problematical than law enforcement. In classic Hitchcockian fashion, Frank is running for his life from both sides with no one to trust except the woman responsible for whom he has fallen. Hard.
Jolies job is to look astonishing in a dazzling array of top-shelf designer duds and jewels. She does. She is also on the mark when it comes to being cool, but not cold, a woman motivated by her tender feelings. When she stares down the police following her, its less defiant than impudent. Depp is an excellent foil, sweetly scruffy with his obvious enchantment at the turn his life has taken that seems to have sprung right from the pages of the mass-market novel hes carrying.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark has a feel for the human element worming its way into police procedure, for good or ill. He won an Oscar for THE LIVES OF OTHERS about that very subject, and though that film was about an operative falling prey to his more tender feelings in a police state, and this one is about an operative falling prey to his frustrations, the essence is still there. From the way that the crack surveillance team watching Jolie speculates on whether or not she wearing panties that day, to the way an Italian policeman offers up his espresso to a jangled Mark after he has a run-in with both gangsters and police. He is less successful in the action tropes, leaving a slow-speed chase through the canals of nighttime Venice a major yawn. A cold garroting, on the other hand, done in real-time and with no emotion, is bone-chilling. Too bad that the films success is dependent on a sense of overall tension that Donnersmark is unable to conjure beyond wondering what fabulous ensemble Jolie will wear next.
None of this is meant to be taken seriously. Its an evenings light entertainment with some occasionally sparkling dialogue that has been rendered more buoyant than suspenseful.