The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

directed by Ron Howard

starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany

Sony

I didn’t need to read The Da Vinci Code this week to determine that the summer’s first “blockbuster,” one of the most eagerly anticipated films in recent memory, isn’t as good as Dan Brown’s mega-selling novel.

Heretical, blasphemous… perhaps, but this star-packed, big-production number’s biggest controversy is that it will shortly prove itself to be one of the biggest disappointments in cinematic history. Sure, the Catholic church should condemn this stinker — not for its heresy or blasphemy (i.e. free thinking), but for being flat-out bad. The cinematography is expectedly atmospheric, but everything else — from the pacing to Hans Zimmer’s overworked musical score — is bizarrely off-kilter.

The Da Vinci Code begins darkly enough – perhaps inspired by The Name Of The Rose, a curator is murdered in the Louvre’s shadows one evening, leaving behind a scrawled code in blood that seems to name renowned scholar Robert Langdon (a miscast Tom Hanks) as his killer. Langdon, in Paris delivering a lecture on religious symbolism, is soon doggedly pursued by enigmatic police captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno). A bewildered Langdon is joined by a police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who has an agenda of her own. Together, they discover that the curator’s murder is part of a quest for the Holy Grail, which may contain a secret that, if revealed, would change the western world. Rogue members of the Opus Dei, a real-life group portrayed in the film as an ultra-devout Catholic sect, will stop at nothing to acquire and destroy the Grail, as well as rub out its protectors, the Priory of Sion — duty-descendants of the Templar Knights.

Silas, a self-flagellating, psychotic, albino hitman of a monk (Paul Bettany), under orders from evil Bishop Aringosa (Alfred Molina), has been eliminating members of the Priory of Sion; he focuses his murderous attention on Langdon and Neveu as they encounter and solve riddles and codes to the Holy Grail’s whereabouts.

Sir Ian McKellen almost saves this picture as Sir Leigh Teabing, Holy Grail historian and Langdon’s old colleague. However, the pair’s ongoing dissertations on Mary Magdalene, Constantine, Jesus and the link between paganism, feminism and Christianity — told to Neveu, who obviously excluded religious studies from her college curriculum — are so condescending, they might as well be talking directly to the camera.

Centuries-old clues are deciphered in this film with all the alacrity and speed of a Nancy Drew mystery; however, at least Nancy and her chums were known to express their amazement or consternation. The Da Vinci Code‘s script lacks even a “Gee whiz!” — and Hanks’ and Tautou’s surprisingly emotionless performances succeed in keeping their characters one-dimensional. The dialogue also victimizes faultless Reno, Molina, even McKellen — in the end, Teabing is reduced to a stereotype.

Between the legions of Code-readers, those who have seen any of the recent Da Vinci Code documentaries on cable, and those who were aware of the story’s basic premise decades before Brown wrote his book, the Big Secret is just about out of the bag before the film starts rolling. It was up to Ron Howard to employ the sort of skills he utilized with Cinderella Man and Apollo 13 to construct a compelling movie that would prompt audiences to forget that they already know its ending.

Inexplicably, the proven-genius director — along with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and co-producer Brown himself — have managed an act of self-sabotage, stripping out all of the book’s suspense, intrigue and character development, duping Da Vinci Code fans with a quarter-assed effort that strongly resembles a 153-minute TV movie of the week, without the much-needed fridge breaks.

The Da Vinci Code: www.sonypictures.com/movies/thedavincicode

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