In "The Tourist," Johnny Depp is asked to play a bland American everyman, in the fashion of Cary Grant in "North by Northwest" or Jimmy Stewart in "The Man Who Knew Too Much." That's a bit like asking Michael Bolton to play death metal or Jackson Pollock to paint inside the lines. Depp adopts an affected, unplaceable accent and contorts his face into whimsical-weirdo expressions — the same ones he's been using since "Benny and Joon."
It's a spectacularly misconceived performance, and what's remarkable about "The Tourist" is that Depp's not even the worst thing about the movie. That honor goes to Angelina Jolie, who adopts her own affected accent (a kind of Madonna-ese British) and struts through the proceedings with an imperious stare that closes off all the other performers. Her Elise Clifton-Ward is supposed to be a madly romantic woman who falls in love all the time, but clearly the only one Jolie is in love with here is herself.
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, taking a radical step backward from his Oscar-winning debut "The Lives of Others," "The Tourist" illustrates what happens when you cast two giant, self-orbiting stars and then are either too intimidated or too confused to actually direct them. It also illustrates what happens when you compound a bad idea with poorly telegraphed twists and no dramatic tension whatsoever. (The screenplay, based on a 2005 French film called "Anthony Zimmer," is by the director and two more Oscar winners, Julian Fellowes, "Gosford Park," and Christopher McQuarrie, "The Usual Suspects.")
For what it's worth, the story is an increasingly silly gloss on one of Hitchcock's "wrong man" thrillers: Elise is wanted for her connection to a mysterious thief named Alexander Pierce. On a train to Venice, she chooses a seemingly innocent American tourist — Depp's Frank Tupelo — and fools her pursuers into thinking he's Pierce.
Von Donnersmarck has conjured up a movie in love with its own Hollywood artificiality; at one point, and for no discernible reason, Jolie is dressed up to look like Sophia Loren and attends a formal ball. But there's nothing to care about here, and the action is all ineptly staged. Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton end up leading Keystone Kops routines that are funny for all the wrong reasons. The movie sputters to a conclusion so predictable you first feel embarrassed for all involved, until your embarrassment turns to indignation: How stupid does Hollywood believe audiences to be if they think they can put a turkey like "The Tourist" over on us?