Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in the season's best-looking movie

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Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in the season's best-looking movie

The Tourist, one of the holiday season's most anticipated releases, marks the first time global superstars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie share top billing in a movie. That might explain why fans from Des Moines to Sri Lanka can't wait to see it.

Still, the movie (which opens Friday) looks kinda familiar. Depp already played an imperiled Yank traveling abroad in Roman Polanski's terrific but little-seen The Ninth Gate. And Jolie has done so many kick-ass femme-fatale roles (including Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and most recently Salt) that she seems to have cornered the market on Amazonian hotties. You don't know whether Jolie is going to kiss you or kill you, and that's part of her appeal — at least to male audiences. The only difference this time is that she's dusting off the British accent she used in the Tomb Raider movies.

But for all this talk of the movie's big stars, another notable feature is getting lost in the shuffle: It's the first English film by Academy Award-winning German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. When von Donnersmarck accepted his well-deserved Oscar back in 2007 for The Lives of Others, everyone remarked how flawless — virtually unaccented, in fact — his English was. The only thing truly surprising about von Donnersmarck finally going Hollywood is that it took so long. 

When I first heard that the director was doing a project with Depp and Jolie, I figured it would be a starkly dramatic piece, based on his other work. But The Tourist's seemingly larkish tone comes as something of a shock. Of course, if the movie turns out to be less frothy than the ad campaign suggests, well, it wouldn't be the first time a trailer lied. 

As irresistible as it must have been for von Donnersmarck to take the reins of a big-budget Hollywood production — starring two of the hugest box-office draws on the planet, no less — the not-so-great track record of other acclaimed foreign directors who tried making it stateside must have struck some fear in him.

Legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman made two English-language bombs (The Touch and The Serpent's Egg) during his otherwise exemplary career; the Italian Michelangelo Antonioni had the notorious, made-in-the-U.S.A. flop Zabriskie Point; and Frenchman Francois Truffaut stumbled with his adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.

German directors seem to have an even tougher time in Hollywood: Oliver Hirschbiegel followed up the superb Downfall with The Invasion, a pointless Invasion of the Body Snatchers retread starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Sandra Nettelbeck used her clout from 2002's art-house hit Mostly Martha to direct Ashley Judd in Helen, which went straight to DVD. And Doris Dorrie made waves with her battle-of-the-sexes romp Men back in the '80s. But when Hollywood came knocking, the result was the barely released talking-penis comedy Me and Him. 

With those kind of daunting cautionary tales, is it any wonder Pedro Almodóvar continues to resist Hollywood's siren call ever since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown catapulted him to brand-name status? Maybe von Donnersmarck will have better luck than most of his compatriots. If not, I'm sure the German film industry would be more than happy to reclaim their current favorite native son.

Send feedback to film@clevescene.com.

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