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Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

'The Tourist'

No sparks in Depp and Jolie's Venice romp


"The Tourist" is a dud but at least, um, it's a Milk Dud. These are chocolaty chunks of caramel guaranteed to wreak havoc on the body's calcium supply and most likely do damage to one's sanity. Still, they're great fun to chew on as long as they last — and that about sums it up for the movie as well.

The Tourist Rating: (3 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
A low ebb: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in "The Tourist."

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Running time: 103 minutes
Language: English
Opens March 5, 2011
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Nutritionally speaking, "The Tourist" is the pits: without substance or memorable action moments that turn on the sirens in your brain. But if you're looking for the cinematic equivalent of empty calories followed by a soaring sugar high, "The Tourist" is a go-to hot spot.

Swank hotels in exotic locations? Check. Gorgeous wardrobe? Double-check. Megastar wattage? So high the moviemakers could get in trouble with the EPA.

Though set roughly in the present, "The Tourist" positively wallows in 1950s and '60s nostalgia, of a time when coiffed women wore A-line dresses, guys were Carey Grant, and the centerpiece couple engaged in Cold War-esque espionage while exchanging witty banter and long, romantic looks. Angelina Jolie pairs with Johnny Depp in an attempt to re-create the same ambience in this mistaken-identityspy thriller with resplendent locations and a succession of off-shoulder gowns.

And it works — to a certain degree. The couple just don't emit sparks like, say, Audrey Hepburn and Grant in "Charade" — which is strange, considering that director/writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (best known for Oscar winner "The Lives of Others" a few years back) is pretty generous with the steaminess; it feels like every couple of scenes, Jolie is taking Depp's face into her thin hands, dipping in and guzzling like a she-wolf. Like she's starving and it's been a while since the last kill.

Which brings us to a major snag in "The Tourist." Though decorative in every way imaginable, Jolie's prowess as the hottest seductress in the solar system doesn't quite hit the designated mark — which has been a repeated pattern since her appearance in "The Good Shepherd" in 2006. In that, she had played the long-ignored, repressed wife of Matt Damon's CIA agent and it seems like the movie jinxed her.

Since then, her roles have leaned toward the serious and dreary: the grief-stricken overworked mom in "The Changeling," for example, or the no-nonsense workaholic agent in last year's "Salt." Despite her Smithsonian-scale sex appeal, Jolie seems to go for the kind of roles that would fit better on the padded suit shoulders of, say, Sigourney Weaver in the 1990s.

But given her self-made public image as a global humanitarian citizen and a devoted mom of many kids (adopted and otherwise), maybe this is exactly where she wants to be. Jolie once told a Variety reporter that her favorite outfit consisted of a military jacket from the Salvation Army and torn-up jeans, because it allowed her to work on projects and play with her kids. Givenchy-minded she ain't, and it shows in this film. Though "The Tourist" may as well be a one-woman runway collection, with Jolie appropriately striding, pouting and flipping her hair, she doesn't seem to enjoy it much or exactly radiate elegance.

As for Johnny Depp, he's definitely cornered the market on Euro scruffiness and creative facial hair: a visual divergence all by himself.

In case you're interested, here's the plot: Depp is Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Wisconsin on his first trip to Venice, Italy. Jolie goes by the fancy name of Elise Clifton-Ward. She's the mistress of one Alexander Pierce: a criminal wunderkind who stole billions from a mafia boss (Steven Berkoff), is wanted by an Interpol agent (Paul Bettany) and is blacklisted by about a dozen other organizations.

Elise spots Frank on a train and sashays over to his seat — the plan is to pretend to all the police and bad-guy surveillance units that Frank is Alexander, disguised by massive amounts of plastic surgery (cue uncontrollable giggling). Once the coast is clear, Elise will rejoin her lover, leaving Frank to rot in prison.

Everyone on Alexander's trail falls for the bait, and pursues Frank like crazy. The math teacher, who has trouble distinguishing "grazie" from "gracias," is mightily confused, but all worries subside as soon as Elise wraps her naked arms around his neck and bats her amazingly mascaraed lashes. Heck, he even forgets what he went to Venice for in the first place (to get over his dead wife) — and the affair is mentioned once, in passing.

Frank and the director bend over backward to convince us of Elise's off-the-charts desirability, but in the end, Jolie's persona peeks out over Elise's facade. The 1960s illusion is swiffled off what we see is a hard-working, green-minded mom in a Salvation Army jacket.

Turn to today's Weekend Scene Cover for an interview with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

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