The Tourist (PG-13) ★½

Review Date: December 9th, 2010

The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others, which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.

The film's only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him, presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice, he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover, Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government), with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank, and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise's hotel, everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.

While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice, his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we're capable of getting to where he wants us, he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise's strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he's been tricked, chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.

Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film's structural elements, either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist's marketing led us to believe, and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable, especially when we're asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes, that was on her CV).

The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It's worth seeing if you're a superfan of Jolie or Depp, but don't expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with. rated this film 1 1/2 stars.