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The Tourist

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in "The Tourist"

The Woman on the Train
The Tourist

You can never tell about Hollywood studios, but my guess is that if The Tourist had gone into production after this past summer’s box office flop Knight and Day, someone would have pulled the plug on it. They’re both from the same general formula, one that was quite popular in the 1960s: two top stars zipping around glamorous European locations in a lighthearted thriller where the full story only gradually becomes clear to the audience.

Of course, The Tourist benefits from having two stars who are still at the top of their game. Instead of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, we have Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. He is Frank, a math teacher from a community college in one of those forgettable Western states who is taking a solo vacation across Europe to get over the death of his wife. She is Elise, a knockout who sits with him on the train from Paris to Venice and drops the kind of come-hither hints that can’t be ignored, even if they can’t be believed.

What we know that he doesn’t is that he shouldn’t believe them. Elise is the lover of Alexander Pearce, a clever fellow who used his job as a private banker for a faux Russian gangster (Steven Berkoff, looking like a more malign Auric Goldfinger) to siphon $2.4 billion into his own hands. Pursued by both the gangster and every international police agency in Europe, he disappeared two years ago to get substantial plastic surgery. Frank is the dupe that Elise has selected to throw everyone off the trail so that she and Pearce can collect his loot and ride off into the sunset.

Foreign film buffs will recognize the name (admittedly a hard one to forget) of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose first feature, The Lives of Others, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a few years ago. Hardcore buffs may even recognize it as a remake of the French thriller Anthony Zimmer, which starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal but was never released in the US.

The original was a modest affair, and no one will be surprised to hear that this version has been juiced up considerably, though not in the ways you might expect. There are no chases involving dozens of cars crashing into each other and flying into canals. There are no people leaping out of airplanes. If there’s any CGI stuff here, I don’t recall it.

Instead, von Donnersmarck seems to have devoted his attention to—there’s no other word for it—fetishizing Jolie. That’s not hard to do, given that she looks like the work of a European fetish artist to begin with. (Looking at a DVD of Anthony Zimmer as I write this, I’m struck how plain Sophie Marceau looks by comparison, something the French star has never been accused of.) Speaking in an icy British accent, Jolie stalks through the film in an array of designer gowns and impeccably designed and applied hairstyles and makeup. Granted this is the kind of escapist movie audiences go to primarily for the scenery, geographic and human: In the 1960s films this hearkens back to, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren didn’t exactly look drab. But Jolie is so overdesigned that it becomes a distraction.

Depp, by contrast (and as we eventually learn by design, but that would be giving it away), is surprisingly drab, almost nebbishy. Heavier than usual, his famous cheekbones are hidden by hair and fat, and all of the actors cast against him are substantially taller. Depp has always been fun to watch onscreen, an expectation that is turned against us here: We want to like him, but we’re not given much to work with, at least not until the point at which we have to rethink his character. It’s a major weakness of the screenplay—three writers are credited with adapting the French film, a clear case of too many cooks.

The Tourist is escapist fare that might have been more enjoyable with stars who didn’t raise such high expectations. It should have been better, but it’s certainly not the worst way to get in out of the snow this season.

Watch the trailer for The Tourist

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