Elise (Angelina Jolie), girlfriend of international fugitive Alexander Pearce, picks up tourist Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) on a train from Paris to Venice. The plan is to persuade the police that Frank is Pierce with a new face, but the dupe also becomes a target for a murderous gangster.
It’s an irony that can’t have escaped their ‘people’, that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp – who have the chiselled charisma and elegant cool associated with movie stars in the 1950s and ‘60s heyday of well-dressed international romantic thrillers – have spent so much of their careers trying to be dowdy, neurotic, eccentric or freakish. So, it’s no surprise they’re tempted to take on a cosmopolitan romp before gearing up for another Oscar bid nervous breakdown or Tim Burton goth grotesque.
Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise succumbed to much the same urges in Knight And Day, which set the bar low enough to give this a clear field – that was a romantic comedy/thriller which managed not to be sexy, funny or exciting but made a lot of noise, whereas the cocktail is mixed much better here. It’s light on action, but long on elegance with Jolie costumed and coiffeured for a high-end glamour shoot in every scene, and Depp carrying off a white tux and frilly shirt in the big ball sequence. However, it doesn’t quite fizz enough: early on, Depp compliments woman of mystery Jolie by calling her ‘the least down-to-Earth person I’ve ever met’ which underlines how miscast he seems to be as the everyman since the one thing Depp can’t do is ‘ordinary’; and smouldering looks don’t make up for a surprising lack of heat between these fabulous creatures.
The plot is a jeu d’esprit somewhere between North By Northwest and Cipher, populated by fantasy cops played by Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton and retro baddies like Steven Berkoff. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, following up the outstanding The Lives Of Others, changes mood but still spends a lot of time on surveillance technology and peeping policemen.
There are twists and turns and reversals and revelations, and a sweet shadow performance by Rufus Sewell as the trickster who leads the story around by the nose, but little reason to be engaged in the perilous action. Where Knight And Day trashed tourist landmarks, this is timid even in its Venetian rooftop or canal chases and calling in Julian Fellowes to punch up the script still doesn’t import enough wit to keep the bubbles afloat.
If you just want to look with admiration and Johnny and/or Angelina and why wouldnt you? this offers the full scenic tour, but its one of those frustrating almost-good films which never really catches fire.