Rating: ★★½☆☆

Remember that classic scene in Thank You For Smoking, when Aaron Eckhart’s deliciously slimy tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor pitches a sexy, cigarette-plugging scene for an upcoming movie? He envisions the world’s two most attractive stars making love, before each lights up a post-coital cigarette. The Tourist, a new thriller starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie – oft cited as the two most desirable people on the planet – could have brought Naylor’s vision to life; it certainly has the beauteous leads and more than enough cigarettes to go around, yet incredibly, it fails to be at all sexy, fun, or exciting.

Elise (Jolie) is a mysterious woman romantically involved with an international fugitive, Alexander Pearce, who owes vast sums of cash to a very dangerous group of gangsters. When she receives a letter from him, requesting that she find a man of similar physical presence to himself to set up as a fall guy for the authorities, she decides upon Frank Taylor (Depp), a recently widowed maths teacher who cannot believe his luck to see this beautiful woman taking an interest. Of course, Frank soon realises the true nature of the exchange, and must not only escape the gangster thugs who have taken a bounty out on his life, but also Scotland Yard, led by obsessive cop Ascheson (Paul Bettany).

The Tourist is at its simplest a cynical case of lazy filmmaking, though it’s somewhat surprising given the typically robust work ethic of all involved; director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck previously helmed the Oscar-winning masterpiece The Lives of Others, while Depp and Jolie’s track records speak for themselves. That any of the three would sign onto such an obviously inadequate project without demanding massive rewrites is mind-boggling, for this is a film with the look and feel of Hitchcock, but neither the heart or soul.

Donnersmarck’s stately direction – admittedly providing some gorgeous views of Venice – positions the film as a classy, sure-to-be-sexy outing that’s light on its feet and oozing charm from the outset. However, aside from the fact that the narrative is essentially a shallow smattering of at least four Hitchcock classics, the direction, unaided by the iffy script, in fact comes off as rather cold and clinical, hermetically sealing Depp and Jolie inside a joyless plot which eagerly keeps the two away from each other and too often off-screen.

Their brief, intermittent scenes together are unquestionably the film’s best moments – resulting in a few droll chuckles – yet at each turn their evident chemistry is curtailed by yet another interruption or overly serious morsel of plotting. The attraction of the film for most audiences is going to be the pairing of the two leads, yet Donnersmarck appears to underestimate this, keeping them apart mid-film for a good twenty minutes, while their parlance when they are together is also sparse, as they’re often engaged in sluggish set pieces or are forced to gaze doe-eyed into the lens.

So, no, there is no sex scene between the two, which is probably what most people wanted to see, nor is there any sustained sexual tension, resulting in a curiously neutered romance which lacks the frisson its two leads have shown separately in other projects. Similarly, the infrequent set pieces are overly laboured and moribund; the pulse races never once, and of course, the sense of threat is about as imposing as a dead sewer rat.

The little that actually works here jolts into action only very occasionally; it is clear that Depp and Angie are trying their best – and they no doubt had fun filming the thing, for who wouldn’t want a six month holiday in Venice? – but what can be done with such a criminally boring rehash of the prototypical mistaken identity thriller. Likewise, supporting appearances from Paul Bettany and, in an amusing walk-on role, Timothy Dalton, inject a little more fun into proceedings, yet they are compromised by the utterly bland script.

Not even two unexpected plot twists in the final act enliven things that much, simply because it is difficult to care about the revelations when the dead-weight scripting nary attempts to invest the viewer in what is going on. The final stinger, admittedly quite amusing in its ridiculousness, feels like a Hail Mary pass to try and be clever, yet it ultimately comes off as a desperate, and quite probably nonsensical last resort.

Neither bad enough to laugh at nor basically campy enough to really enjoy, The Tourist is best considered an expensive travel ad for Venice rather than the sexy, action-packed, sassy thriller we were all hoping for. The cast try hard, but the script’s lukewarm regard to sex, action, thrills, and characters makes this a positively snoozy disappointment.

The Tourist is in cinema’s this Friday.

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This article was first posted on December 9, 2010