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Venice Plays Itself

The Tourist (2010)

Peter Mountain/Columbia Pictures

These are tough times for froth. When half of mainstream cinema is pastiche already and most of the rest wants its childhood back, what does deliberate frivolity even look like? "The Tourist" has a go at finding out, no thought in its pretty head beyond the visual pleasure of packing two pocket-rockets of screen presence off to Europe and having them stand in front of exotic buildings. Purged of every molecule of guile, it leaves the audience in a mild state of free fall, waiting for Hollywood snark that never arrives.

Which seems to have been the point, since "The Tourist" doesn't feel as if its guts are on the cutting-room floor. Instead, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has done the unfashionable thing: cashing in the Hollywood ticket he bought with "The Lives of Others" for his session with the giant train set, but without wanting to make a statement, worship his idols or indulge a brainstorm. The idea is almost quaint.

It leaves Angelina Jolie damping down her internal reactor yet again to play a poised, elegant woman of mystery, who leads hapless tourist Johnny Depp a merry dance across Venice. Pursued by a phalanx of international law officers, among them Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton, as well as by gang boss Steven Berkoff and his torpedoes, the mysteriously unmysterious duo get into a variety of canal-based mistaken-identity wheezes en route to a very rickety twist.

As you'd expect from a film shot by John Seale, Venice looks sumptuous, full of such well-adjusted specimens of humanity that Mr. Berkoff's air of having just bitten the head off a weasel should have seen him turned back at border control. The two stars fit in more handsomely. Ms. Jolie can do this routine in her sleep by now, although if Charlize Theron had played the part as once was planned, the character would have been much more predatory and interesting. Mr. Depp has the harder road, tackling business as refined as a buon giorno-Bon Jovi gag. No actor alive is more aware of his relationship with the camera, but the temperature drains out of his performance and into the opulent air around him.

So "The Tourist" is calculated fluff, with no ambitions beyond the sight of fashion plates entering and leaving luxury hotels and sparring chastely, an old-fashioned cinematic postcard with a nostalgic anti-British air thanks to the casting. Meanwhile, "Knight and Day" is its mirror image, with Hollywood wiles coming out of its ears, a liberal agenda and a willingness for its stars to spoof themselves while taking their clothes off. And both films are met with groans. Strange days in the middle of the road.


Opened on Dec. 10 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; written by Mr. Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Joe Hutshing and Patricia Rommel; music by James Newton Howard; production design by Jon Hutman; costumes by Colleen Atwood; produced by Graham King, Tim Headington, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Jonathan Glickman; released by Columbia Pictures (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Angelina Jolie (Elise Clifton Ward), Johnny Depp (Frank Tupelo), Paul Bettany (Inspector John Acheson), Timothy Dalton (Chief Inspector Jones), Steven Berkoff (Reginald Shaw) and Rufus Sewell (the Englishman).


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