PARIS (Reuters) - If there were a perfect recipe for a hit movie, an Oscar-winning director setting the magnetic Johnny Depp and the mesmerizing Angelina Jolie against a Parisian and Venetian backdrop would surely do it.
"The Tourist," an action romance thriller, is the first foray into Hollywood for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who came to prominence four years ago scooping an Oscar for best foreign film with "The Lives of Others."
Based loosely on French movie "Anthony Zimmer," the German director and screenwriter's Hollywood entry recalls Tinseltown's older traditions with beautiful sets, an elegant wardrobe and quirky dialogue, while keeping a European style.
"Some people say the glory days of the Hollywood era are over and that we don't have people like Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall," von Donnersmarck told Reuters ahead of the film's premiere on Friday.
"Of course we do. We have people like Depp, who are even cooler than Bogart, and Angelina Jolie, who is Betty Davis and Marilyn Monroe all in one."
Depp's character is a nerdy mathematics teacher who gets embroiled while on holiday in a web of deceit spun by Jolie's vulnerable femme fatale and chased by a dogged English detective played by "Da Vinci Code" bad guy Paul Bettany.
"I've done a number of things where these characters are considered a little bit out (of the ordinary), so I wanted to see what I could do with a normal guy put into radically intense situations with various ticks," said Depp, 47, whose character puffs constantly on an electronic cigarette.
Hollywood studio Columbia Pictures brings together Depp and Jolie for the first time, but according to von Donnersmarck their fame didn't get in the way of filming. The pair had never met before making the film together.
"It doesn't matter if the actors are incredibly famous or not known outside, the work is the same," said the Russian literature and philosophy fan, who speaks five languages.
While a highlight may be Depp jumping over Venice's rooftops in just his pajamas, von Donnersmarck draws viewers in with an eye-catching Jolie dressed to kill in almost every other scene.
Jolie, known for performing daring stunts herself in films like "Salt" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," said she was a little "jealous" that Depp got all the action in The Tourist, but said getting to wallow in Grace Kelly-style elegance made up for it.
"We wanted something that was a pleasure and an escape that you wish Paris and Venice were and everyone feels this elegance for a moment," said Jolie, who uses an English accent for the role. "It felt like I was back in some of these old-time movies."
Adding to the classy flavor, Timothy Dalton, best known for playing suave secret agent James Bond in the late 1980s, makes a cameo appearance as a sort of secret service chief guiding an increasingly forlorn Bettany.
"I had a simple job in this ... you try to lend it a bit of weight, but somebody's got to do it," said the 39-year Bettany.
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato