Behind this forgettable trifle are some very talented people, all punching below their weight when they’re not just calling it in. The screenplay is by Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”), Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”), based on the 2005 French film, “Anthony Zimmer.” Two of the biggest stars on the planet, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp do their best to put some sizzle in this would-be romantic thriller, but they are both poorly used and have no chemistry whatsoever. Venice is pretty, though.
Jolie is the veddy proper Elise Clifton-Ward, whose role in this film is somewhere between femme fatale (drawing the poor schlub who happens across her path into a world of intrigue and peril) and Girl from Ipanema — she spends a lot of time walking slowly while those she passes say, “Ahhhhhhh.”
Elise receives a note from Alexander Pearce, the man she loves and has not seen for two years, asking her to find a man on the train who resembles him to use as a decoy and distract the various Interpol teams that are trying to track him down. Enter the shlub, a math teacher from Wisconsin so (apparently) incapable of dishonesty that his very name is Frank. And yet, we see him tell a lie very early on. It’s a small one, perhaps understandable, but still….
Elise invites him to spend the night in her lavish hotel suite (on the sofa) and kisses him on the balcony, thus drawing the fire, and the attention, of Interpol and of someone even more bent on tracking Pearce down, the man he stole from. It’s a nice set-up, but the execution depends on three things that never happen: a witty script, a spark between the leading characters, and an understanding of tone. The script sags. Jolie and Depp are both poorly cast (she may be more of a serene and elegant mother earth in her real life these days but on screen she only comes alive when she is aggressive and a little wicked and Depp can do just about anything but act like an ordinary guy). And von Donnersmarck has no sense of humor or lightness to make the sillier aspects of the story endearing instead of annoying. This is yet another example of an American remake of a French film that just misses the fun, the romance, and the point.