Dec. 10 2010 12:00 AM

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp can't make 'Tourist' worth the price of a ticket


(Friday, Dec. 10) In “The Tourist,” Angelina Jolie is a woman of many faces — many of them familiar. Sashaying through the streets of Paris in a cream-colored dress and opera gloves, she’s Audrey Hepburn. Navigating the canals of Venice, she turns into Jacqueline Bisset, circa “The Deep.” Gliding through a glittering ballroom, she becomes Sophia Loren. Tough acts to follow, all of them, but Jolie confidently puts across each persona.

“The Tourist,” on the other hand, has difficulty evoking the mock-Hitchcockian movies it’s trying to copy. Director and co-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (“The Lives of Others”) wants very badly to craft a contemporary version of “Charade,” “Arabesque,” “Gambit,” or one of the dozens of other mid-1960s light thrillers that put sleek sophisticates in the jaws of jeopardy. But while Henckel von Donnersmark has created the right atmosphere and given his movie an alluring glossiness, the story is almost entirely devoid of suspense or excitement; there are more twists in Jolie’s complicated coiffures than there are in the plot.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Jolie is paired with Johnny Depp, who is alarmingly off his game in these swanky surroundings. Usually a reliably innovative and imaginative performer, Depp is utterly uninspired here as the standard-issue amiable American embroiled in overseas intrigue. Although he’s supposed to be lusting after Jolie, he generally regards her as he might a priceless Ming vase in a museum: stunning, sure, but it’s not as if he’s seriously considering taking it home with him.

If there’s nothing particularly exciting going on between the stars, there’s also not much of interest in the flat, almost mechanical screenplay, which often seems dangerously close to an ultra-expensive feature-length perfume commercial.

British beauty Elise Clifton-Ward (Jolie) is under surveillance because of her long romantic association with Alexander Pearce, a shadowy figure being sought by both Scotland Yard and an international crime syndicate. Hoping to throw off the dogs, Elise picks up a guy who looks just enough like Pearce to keep them guessing, a math teacher from Madison, Wis., named Frank Tupelo (Depp).

“That’s a terrible name,” she purrs. “It’s the only one I’ve got,” he sheepishly admits. The repartee doesn’t get much snappier than that, unfortunately.

Elise and Frank keep their relationship painfully platonic as they share a sumptuous Venetian hotel suite that the manager points out was once a home away from home for Proust and Balzac. But perspiration, not inspiration, is what Frank gets as he is hunted by the gun-toting foot-soldiers of crime boss Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). As for Elise, she’s busy playing cat-and-mouse with investigator Acheson (Paul Bettany), who’s willing to use her as a dazzling bit of bait to bring in Pearce.

It’s all very pretty — and it’s pretty mediocre as well.

“I wish we’d met in another life, Frank,” Elise sighs as she prepares to abandon him without even seducing him first. But of course, they have in a manner of speaking: There are earlier incarnations of Frank and Elise haunting Turner Classic Movies every night, and most of the movies they are gracing are superior to “The Tourist.”