Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Vinci Code: Like Dullsville, Man (movie review)

I caught tonight's advance screening of The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard's adaptation of the can't-escape-it Dan Brown novel.

The nickel review: I was underwhelmed, and the zero-friction chemistry between stars Tom Hanks (mildly miscast) and Audrey Tatou didn't help.

The d'oh prediction: Big box-office $$, particularly for the first weekend, before word gets out.

Qualifier to the d'oh prediction: If the "controversy" grows, stoked no doubt by studio publicists, the movie will sell loads of tickets all summer long.

More ...

Going into Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s omnipresent bestseller The Da Vinci Code, the latter a potent mix of theological thriller and lurid pseudo-historical gobbledygook, it was difficult not to dwell on a couple of nagging questions.

First, if a mere movie is so threatening to Christians’ faith, then what does that say about the strength of their beliefs? Secondly, why in the name of all that’s holy are Vatican officials and other Roman Catholic leaders seemingly more bent out of shape over the impact of a piece of slick Hollywood spectacle – boycotts and picketing have been threatened by some – than they are about the widespread molestation of innocents by priests?

If I were as big a conspiracy theorist as Brown is, or pretends to be for the sake of a crackerjack page turner, I’d have to answer that second question thusly: Maybe Church officials believe that their patriarchal authority and power structure will somehow be undermined by the sundry loosely connected crackpot theories presented onscreen by Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind).

Sadly, for some, this movie isn’t the vehicle to achieve such a feat, and not only because its liberties with art history and Church history are as fanciful and absurd as the book’s leaps of logic.

Why, then, won’t the Church be shaken? Because The Da Vinci Code, Howard’s third project with Tom Hanks (following Apollo 13 and Splash), is simply Dullsville on far too many occasions during its sprawling 148-minute running time. Howard and Goldsman make the mistake, fatal to filmmakers and fiction writers alike, of too often telling, not showing. The dialogue, particularly that spoken by the reliably bright and witty Ian McKellen, as a wealthy British scholar, in more cases than not is designed to carefully put into place the various pieces of the newfangled doctrinal puzzle, rather than to reveal character.

At one point, it seems quite possible that Howard will conclude with a Scooby-Doo ending – the police will swoop down, make an arrest, and rip off the mask of the villain, who will turn out to be Old Man Johnson, the kindly amusement park janitor. No spoilers here, but it’s fair to say that Da Vinci does offer that sort of twist in the final act, when double-crosses start spreading like wildfire.

The film opens strong, as a murderous chase in the gleaming corridors of the Louvre in Paris, where Howard and Co. shot for two weeks, is contrasted with a lecture given by Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks), a Harvard “symbologist” -- nope, in real life there’s no such job. In the heat of a book signing, he’s pulled away by a French detective (Jean Reno) to answer questions about the murder of a Louvre curator whose naked corpse was covered with cryptic messages written in his own blood.

It’s a short jump from a crime story to an on-the-road thriller, as Langdon (Hanks looks doughy and tired, and perennially makes quizzical faces) and an attractive French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou) team up to solve the crime. More importantly, they’re hot on the trail of a secret that, you know, has been suppressed for 2,000 years.

The cover-up involves several popes, high-ranking Church officials, secret societies and a self-flagellating, aqua-eyed albino monk by the name of Silas (Paul Bettany). And the long-suppressed “truth” allegedly ties Jesus to Mary Magdalene and their still-surviving offspring, with clues provided by Leonardo Da Vinci, and Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton figuring into the mix. It’s the first-ever thriller in which the line, “I have to get to a library, fast,” can safely be delivered with a straight face.


Thomas said...

I predict one big weekend and then a serious drop-off.

Philip Booth said...

Thomas -- I predict ... that it'll do record-breaking biz first weekend, do impressive biz second weekend (Memorial Day) and THEN really drop off.