Actors typically can't upstage the ravishing sights of Venice, Italy.
Then again, actors typically aren't as drop dead gorgeous as Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.
The Tourist casts these international sex symbols in a pick-up game of Charade, with Depp as a more awkward Cary Grant and Jolie handling the Audrey Hepburn glamour. Like that previous film, The Tourist is less likely to be remembered for its cat-and-mouse machinations than for the beautiful people carrying them out.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — working several shades lighter than his Oscar-winning foreign film The Lives of Others — is mostly content to pose his show ponies on balconies of luxurious hotel rooms, dancing in opulent ballrooms, or cruising in sleek motorboats on Venice's canals. He knows superficiality works if the surface gleams enough.
The Tourist's itinerary actually begins in Paris (France, a subtitle helpfully informs us). Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie) is under surveillance by Interpol, who believe she'll lead them to a master thief — her lover — owing England millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. She's slipped a message from the mystery man coaching her to catch a train to Venice and get cozy with any man resembling him, to throw off the posse.
That man is Frank Tupelo (Depp), a shaggy and somewhat shy vacationer who is quickly captivated by Elise. They share dinner and flirt-talk, winding up in a posh hotel for the evening where nothing sexy happens. Frank is perplexed but Elise has her ringer where she wants him. Then a mixup at Scotland Yard mistakenly identifies Frank as the thief, a mobster (Steven Berkoff) whose fortune was stolen believes it, and the chase is on.
Only one chase excites; a boat duel on a canal providing most of the action in The Tourist. The rest is rooftop running and quick bursts of gunfire, mixed with a knife threat or two. There's a midsection twist and another at the finale, neither of which will be spoiled but neither worth the secrecy.
What The Tourist lacks in thrills is compensated by Depp's amusing version of a schlub, Jolie's skill as a walking mannequin draped in finery, and their combined, combustible chemistry. It's a wonder that nobody put them together before. Von Donnersmarck makes the most of his chance, staging long kisses in pore-revealing closeups with swelling strings on the soundtrack. Just like the world's sexiest actors deserve.
One more thing: The Tourist is a great example of giving background extras more to do than milling around and faking conversation. Each are also apparently instructed to interrupt whatever they're doing when Jolie sashays by, to offer approving nods for her backside. Nice work, if you can get it.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.