By Chritsy Lemire
AP Movie Critic
It’s probably best to head into “The Tourist’’ with the mindset that you’re going on an actual vacation yourself. If you are in the mood for mindless, escapist fun _ dazzling scenery, elegant evenings, decadent hotel suites and expensive clothes _ you will be fine.
There are all the obligatory chases and shootouts you would expect in a romantic action caper, but you never get the sense that anyone is in real danger. There are twists, but they won’t make you think too terribly hard, and in the end you will have devoted fewer than two hours of your life to a decent diversion.
Watching Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie bounce off each other isn’t torture. Pretty people went to Venice and made a pretty movie. Joining them will not be thoroughly satisfying, but it won’t kill you, either.
It is probably also best not to let the esteemed pedigree of the people behind the movie trick you into expecting something way more substantive or meaningful than you are going to get. “The Tourist’’ is the first Hollywood film from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose debut, the excellent German film “The Lives of Others,’’ won the foreign-language Oscar in 2007. It comes from a script that is credited to Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects’’) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park’’). Cinematographer John Seale (“The English Patient’’) provides the scenic vistas and intimate views of the exquisite Jolie. Costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Chicago’’) dressed the gorgeous superstar.
These acclaimed talents, Oscar winners, all, have given us something unabashedly light, frothy and ridiculous, almost knowingly preposterous. But still, fun, so if you feel like shutting your brain off for a little when there is so much heady awards bait out there, this is not a horrible way to go.
Jolie stars as Elise Clifton Ward, an elegant and mysterious Englishwoman (which allows her to dust off that impeccable British accent she did for the “Tomb Raider’’ movies). Elise is the lover of the elusive Alexander Pearce, who is the target of Scotland Yard for having stolen billions from a gangster. (Paul Bettany gets some dry laughs as the head of the investigative team.)
When we first see Elise, she is being trailed by authorities to a cafe in Paris, where she receives a note from Pearce instructing her to take a morning train to Venice. While on board, she is to pick out a man of similar height and build to serve as her companion and confuse her followers. She chooses Depp’s Frank Tupelo, a mild-mannered math teacher from Wisconsin, and after all his recently hilarious flamboyant roles, it is a welcome change of pace to see Depp in an understated mode, to see him a little schlubby and self-deprecating.
Once they arrive in Venice, Elise and Frank find themselves being hunted not just by the police but by the angry gangster (Steven Berkoff), who wants his money back, along with his band of hapless thugs. Everyone assumes Frank is Pearce _ and even if he’s not, he’s still in trouble (and the score from James Newton Howard tends to play up the madcap hilarity, and the would-be romance, a bit too intrusively).
Along those lines, do Jolie and Depp, two of the biggest stars on the planet, have any chemistry with each other? Here and there. They are actually more interesting as individuals, which is not exactly helpful, given that “The Tourist’’ is meant to be a romance. But Jolie provides the sultry action, and Depp offers some sweet, goofy laughs, and in the end no one got sunburned or suffered from food poisoning.
“The Tourist,’’ a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. Running time: 105 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.