Early on they were saying Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron, to be directed by the maker of “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” Then the director of “Traitor” came up, and Sam Worthington, subbed in for Cruise to star. Probably there were a hundred other permutations too, before Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and the man behind “The Lives of Others” got locked in. And probably they’d all have worked more or less as well as this one.
Just as long as nobody expects “The Tourist” to be in any way special, nobody will be disappointed. It’s an inoffensively mediocre diversion: Euro-intrigue lite.
We begin in Paris, with Jolie’s Elise, a variously wanted woman, being surveilled by a van full of Frenchmen on behalf of Scotland Yard. The Brits — Paul Bettany, presided over by Timothy Dalton — have been trying to track down her notoriously elusive husband, a shifty chameleon with a steep unpaid tax bill and a knack for pilfering mob money. And while they watch, she gets a note from him, instructing her to board a train for Venice and to “find someone my height and build and make them believe it is me.”
So she finds Depp’s Frank, a handsome American, who says he’s a math teacher. She says she bets he’s the cool math teacher. Still, he says, a math teacher. And this is how it’s going to be. Gamely, they flirt, each allowing a gradual seduction to begin. And the stars seem to have a fine time trading variations on the theme of poise. Then it becomes evident that some other people want to go through Elise to get to her husband, too — namely, the mobsters he robbed, presided over by movie-villain veteran Steven Berkoff. And Rufus Sewell, used too sparingly, winds up in the mix as well.
All the while, there is the perfunctorily perplexing matter of who this elusive husband really is. Scotland Yard suspects the hapless tourist Frank, then reconsiders. For that matter, there is the matter of who this Elise really is. She seems unusually adept at luxe capering.
The same can’t be said for the movie. Obviously it’s supposed to be a glamorous romantic thriller in the manner of the classic “Charade,” comparisons to which do “The Tourist” no favors. Maybe it’s kinder to compare it to Jérôme Salle’s 2005 film “Anthony Zimmer,” of which it’s an acknowledged remake. But that only advances the unsettling implication that between “The Tourist” and “The Next Three Days,” French procedural thrillers have supplanted Swedish ones as hot fodder for half-hearted, too-soon Hollywood imitation.
Here, the Oscar-lauded but otherwise barely vetted director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, co-writing with “Valkyrie”’s Christopher McQuarrie and “The Young Victoria”’s Julian Fellowes, assembles all the necessary elements, but can’t maintain the spark of life. His film is strangely languid. Maybe it thinks it’s luxuriating. Or maybe it has assumed its audience rather slow on the uptake.
Anyway, at the center of it all is Depp, ever appealing as the glamorous goofball. But as the title suggests, it could have been anyone.