“The Tourist,” starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, starts off like Hitchcock, and it maintains that feel throughout. The pace, however, is glacial, unlike the works of The Master, who kept things clipping right along. There are also some sporadic bits of humor, a la Hitch, but the clever exchanges of, say, “North by Northwest” are largely missing. Still, it has its charms.
The classic Hitchcock situation presents itself early on: an apparently innocent man gets drawn into a dangerous, mysterious situation which he only vaguely understands. In this case, the guy is one Frank Tupelo (Depp), a math instructor at a Wisconsin community college who is on a trip to Venice. On the train from Paris, he meets—or is picked up by—a gorgeous femme fatale, Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie). She entices the curiously uncurious Frank to ask her to dinner, then to join her at her fancy Venetian hotel, though he has to sleep on the couch.
But we know, as Frank evidently does not, that Elise is being watched by an international corps of lawmen, armed with all sorts of fancy electronic gimmicks. These latter allow London police inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany) to keep an eye on her, even though his boss (played by ex-Bond man Timothy Dalton) has warned him off.
The true object of Acheson’s obsession is not Elise, but her lover, a swindler named Alexander Pierce who owes his fellow Brits millions of pounds. And Alex has told Elise to pick out a man of about his height and build and make the police believe that he’s Alex, who has likely paid for plastic surgery with his ill-gotten gains. The police take the bait, after which it’s a race between them and a cooly murderous British gangster, Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff), who also wants a great deal of money back from Alex, but needs to have him alive to find out where it is.
Director/screenwriter Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck lays in a number of hints that all is not as it seems; however, he may or not prepare us for the final reversal of our expectations. Depp, playing distinctly against type, only gives us glimpses of Captain Jack Sparrow or Willie Wonka, as Frank is a strangely passive character. When he takes matters into his own feckless hands, we hardly believe it. For her part, Jolie maintains a glamorous aura of mystery by saying as little as possible.The filmmakers have dolled her up like a younger, slightly less voluptuous Sophia Loren, but they also want us to believe she can outsmart the well-armed and -equipped opposition, on both sides of the law.
We’re never quite sure if “The Tourist” is supposed to be comic or not, though there are a number of funny moments, as when Depp tiptoes across tile rooftops in his pajamas or when a number of Italian cops suddenly materialize on a train platform. The movie is rated “PG-13” for violence and brief strong language; I’m guessing most preteens and teens would lose interest early on, given the pace and the confusing proceedings. Adults who are willing to hang in until the very end—we’re talking last few frames—may find this a nice escape from the onset of real winter.