This job gives me the chance to enjoy and then enthuse about original and compelling movies that distil universal truths from specific stories. The Lives of Others, the feature debut of director von Donnersmarck, was one such film.
But occasionally I catch myself wondering whether I'm being paid enough to sit through derivative tosh of such tonsil-aching banality that I want to eat my fist. The Tourist, the second feature by director von Donnersmarck, is one such film.
Based on a 2005 French caper flick about the chase for a money-launderer in the Riviera, the ferociously silly new film moves the setting to Venice, which is where Elise (Jolie) heads after being delivered a mysterious message from Alexander, an old flame.
Alexander has nicked a gangster's millions and both Scotland Yard and the gangster (Berkoff, who else?) are on Elise's trail because she'll lead them to him.
Instead, she hooks up with Frank Tupelo (Depp), a milquetoast maths teacher from Wisconsin, and invites the astonished tourist to join her in a flash hotel. When bullets start flying all she can say is, "I'm sorry I got you involved in this".
The film they were trying to make Hitchcock already made, of course: To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, which it freely quotes. But even the Oscar-winning writing talent Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) can't breathe any life into this pallid imitation of a romantic thriller.
That's because von Donnersmarck is tone-deaf to the genre he's dealing with - comedy-drama that is equal parts thriller and farce. To carry it off requires the tongue-in-cheek insouciance that Grant had in spades but which Depp, for all his considerable skill, just can't summon. It doesn't help that there's zero chemistry between him and Jolie, but the fact is that there's zero chemistry anywhere in the film: the scene between a hapless Frank, arrested in his pyjamas, and a sceptical police chief, would, in Billy Wilder's hands, have been both dramatic and hilarious. Here it is neither. The one-liner just makes matters worse and an outrageous twist at the movie's end (you can see it coming from about minute 20) just adds insult to injury.
What's left is pretty gowns and a nice setting. If off-the-shoulder Jolie and Venice are your idea of eye-candy, you'll be in heaven. Me, I'm hoping the skin on my knuckles grows back.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Running time: 103 mins
Rating:M (violence, offensive language)