The Tourist

Even if we accept that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp are incredibly charismatic Tinseltown luminaries of the highest possible wattage, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll be any good together — especially if you just throw them into something generic and assume they’ll carry it by the sheer strength of their screen presence. That’s arrogant, that’s what that is. Maybe a little lazy, too. What, we’re supposed to love something as pale, weak, and one-dimensional as “The Tourist” just because it happens to feature two of the biggest movie stars in the world? No! We will not do this! We are better than that, movie.

German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose debut feature, “The Lives of Others,” won the Oscar a few years ago, took the reins on this big-time showbiz project after scheduling and other difficulties bumped some other directors (and actors) out of it. I don’t think I hold it against him. The Academy Award opened a lot of doors for him. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to direct Depp and Jolie in a faux-Hitchcockian you’ve-got-the-wrong-guy European adventure, no matter how unremarkable the screenplay was? Turning down a job like that is for people who’ve already made a dozen Hollywood films, or people who are dead inside, neither of which describes Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

I urge you to say his name aloud. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Did you do it? There, you just had more fun than you would if you watched “The Tourist.”

Based on a 2005 French film called “Anthony Zimmer,” this is a story about how beautiful Angelina Jolie is. The bulk of the film is devoted to shots of her walking around seductively, often in slow-motion, looking glamorous and ravishing while all male humans in her vicinity gape. She plays Elise, an Englishwoman in Paris who’s being tailed by the police because her lover, one Alexander Pearce, is a master thief whose face has never been seen. The cops, led by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany), hope that she will lead them to Pearce. So does Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), a ruthless billionaire from whom Pearce stole a rather sizable amount of money.

This leads to Venice, where most of the movie is set. Here an ordinary American tourist, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), is mistaken for Alexander Pearce — at least in part because Elise has let the police (who she knows are following her) think that’s who he is. He’s a decoy to distract the authorities while she rendezvouses with the real Alexander. But Frank, poor schmuck, baffled by the attention paid him by this beautiful stranger, starts to fall in love. You may well imagine the lighthearted chasing and abducting and explaining that ensues.

There are questions. Why does Elise, after having used Frank for her purposes, continue to care what happens to him? Why does Frank, who traveled to Italy on purpose and with some forethought, keep speaking Spanish? (The practical answer is that the screenwriters thought this would be a funny running gag. The only answer within the world of the movie, however, would have to be that Frank is impossibly dim.) Why were Elise and Alexander ever separated, and why can’t they communicate by normal means? Some of these puzzles are eventually answered; some are not. The story’s final twists, being completely nonsensical, raise even more questions.

Johnny Depp is simply miscast. The whole point of Frank is that he’s an average, ordinary guy — the one thing Johnny Depp is not good at playing. Misfits, oddballs, kooks, nuts, drunken pirates, tea-party-attending hat enthusiasts, sure. Regular guys, no. We have Jolie playing to her strengths (enigmatic beauty, vaguely sensual dialogue, some light gunplay) while Depp must play against his. It is a bad idea.

At no point did I ever buy that these two characters had any romantic feelings for one another. This is crucial, given that the film is supposed to be a romance. They spend too much time dealing in untruths and hidden motives to establish a believable connection. The action is not thrilling, the jokes are average at best, the dialogue has no zing. There are mediocre films that are elevated by their likable stars, but this isn’t one of them.

C (1 hr., 43 min.; PG-13, mild violence, two F-words.)