Can Two Superstars Double Appeal of “Tourist?”

There are stars, and there are superstars. And then there’s Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

The two A-listers and paparazzi magnets could illuminate a galaxy with their star power. Columbia Pictures hopes they will also light up the box office when “The Tourist” debuts on Dec 10. The glitzy overseas thriller marks the first collaboration between the two international superstars.

In the film, Depp plays a mathematician on holiday in Venice to mend a broken heart. There, he meets a mysterious woman (Jolie) who tempts and tangles him into a web of international intrigue, adventure and romance. The combined charms and talents of perhaps the biggest male and female commercial stars in the world, splashed against the glamorous European backdrop, have made the picture one of the most anticipated of the lucrative holiday season.

“The Tourist” is hardly the first time Hollywood has paired up opposite-sex power players with the hopes of sparking movie magic.

During the 1940s, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall stirred the pot onscreen in films such as “To Have and Have Not” and “Key Largo,” and off screen with their real-life romance. In the 1970s, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand were at the top of their game when they did “The Way We Were.” Likewise, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were top box-office draws while making comedies like “The End” and the “Smokey and the Bandit” films.

It would seem to be a no-brainer to bring superstar actors together onscreen. So why doesn’t it happen more often?

“The biggest downside obviously is that when you pair two huge A-list superstars, expectations are huge,” said Entertainment Weekly senior writer Chris Nashawaty. “And while that may be enough to get audiences to cough up 10 bucks and turn out for the opening weekend, it doesn’t guarantee that the movie will stay on top once word of mouth spreads.”

All about chemistry
In the paparazzi age we live in now, tabloid popularity has had as much to do with dream team couplings as previous box-office success. Results have been mixed. It's all about chemistry. Some have it, most don’t.

“The Bounty Hunter,” released in March, featured Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, actors who have probably sold more magazine covers than movie tickets. “Knight and Day” starred Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, several years past each actor’s commercial prime. Neither film lived up to expectations.

Onscreen reunions aren’t sure things, either.

In the 2006 time-travel romance “The Lake House,” Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock failed to recapture the lightning in a bottle they had sparked back in 1994’s “Speed.” Bullock did strike box-office gold in 2002 when she paired with another romantic comedy favorite, Hugh Grant, for “Two Weeks Notice.” But by and large, star pairings are risky business.

“Some of them pay off,” said Nashawaty, “and some don’t live up to the hype, like Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt in “The Mexican.”

That 2001 action comedy was the Hollywood equivalent of a superpower summit. Roberts and Pitt together for the first time seemed like a recipe to print money. Unfortunately, the film underwhelmed audiences and critics.

When Brad met Angie
Four years later, Pitt would be part of another highly publicized casting coup.

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” bucked the trend and proved to be a massive hit, sparked in part by all the behind-the-scenes chatter surrounding the alleged off-screen romance between the then-married Pitt and co-star Jolie.

Five years later, Pitt, Jolie and their children are the targets of an insatiable media circus. They’re hunted relentlessly by paparazzi around the globe. The couple has resisted calls to work together again onscreen.

That’s probably a wise decision. Real-life couples usually fail to transfer their sparks to the screen. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had two husband-and-wife failures, “Far and Away” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez will probably both admit the 2003 flop “Gigli” did their relationship no favors.

Movie audiences, it seems, like to leave something to the imagination, which is why seeing Depp and Jolie together in the same caper may prove irresistible. A quick glimpse of the trailer for “The Tourist” shows Jolie’s smoldering sex appeal and Depp’s patented bemusement and eccentric humor on full display. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s biggest challenge in making the film may have been navigating the gantlet of photographers that followed Jolie’s every move.

Whether or not the movie is any good may not, ultimately, even matter. Stars of Depp and Jolie’s stature are held to a different standard. The film’s box office performance will ultimately be the determining factor if this latest superstar experiment was a success or not.

"The main reason why Hollywood doesn’t pair these A-list dream teams more often is it’s really expensive. Top stars earn $20 million per film,” said EW’s Nashawaty. “That said, if 'The Tourist' is a huge hit, a studio might be more willing to try to duplicate its dream team formula ... or at least hurry up and make 'The Tourist 2.' "

Michael Avila is a writer in New York.

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