The Da Vinci Code (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

Everyone has some important insight to impart or some declaration to make, whether it’s Langdon, the Bishop, Sir Teabing, or Neveu. And frankly, it wears a viewer down.



“I’m into something that I can’t understand,” says Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the hero of the long-awaited movie version of Dan Brown’s best-selling theological mystery tale. He’s not the only one, that’s for sure. Hanks utters these words to Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a crusty old scholar and friend who gets around with the help of twin canes, and excitedly spouts insights about the Holy Grail, the historical persecution of women, and who that mysterious figure is to the right of Jesus in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting.

As all readers of The Da Vinci Code know (and that’s apparently half the planet), the book raises serious and provocative questions about Jesus’ divinity, his relationship to Mary Magdalene, and whether there’s been a multifarious conspiracy by the Catholic church to conceal the truth and maintain tight control over the masses with a strict interpretation of Christian doctrine. These are no small matters, and director Ron Howard is to be commended for his sheer ambition in bringing the complicated tale to the screen. Alas, he’s brought us an unwieldy clunker instead of a riveting thriller.

The plot in brief: Langdon, a Harvard “symbology” professor, is summoned by a police captain (Jean Reno) to Paris, where a curator at the Louvre who he was scheduled to meet is found murdered, with a bloody pentagram scrawled on his chest. Alluring French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) joins in to look for clues to the deepening mystery. Langdon is suspected of the crime himself, however, so he and Sophie find themselves on the run from French police; they’re also stalked by a spooked-out albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany, in one of the film’s most interesting performances), who wants anything they turn up about the Holy Grail, and apparently has plenty of free time and travel money to follow them around (between bouts of self-flagellation in sympathy with Christ’s suffering). Meanwhile, secret discussions take place between Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina, always a compelling actor) and his fellow conspirators in the Vatican; control must be maintained, so they gotta do this, that, and the other dangerous thing to get their way. Against this plot, we get lots of car chases, scenes of Hanks and Tautou running here and there, and of course, tons of speechifyin’. Everyone has some important insight to impart or some declaration to make, whether it’s Langdon, the Bishop, Sir Teabing, or Neveu. And frankly, it wears a viewer down.

There are lots of things wrong with The Da Vinci Code. For a movie so filled with the powerful revelations Brown captured in the pages of his novel (adapted in overwrought style by Akiva Goldsman), you rarely feel the significance of the events as they unfold. The bombastic music score by Hans Zimmer is so intrusive at times that it’s as though the music’s trying to fill in the intended emotion for those puzzled over how to respond. There’s a cookie-cutter sensibility at work here: you get one big scene, some transitional action (that’s nearly always rushed), another big scene, a dull stretch, then another significant bit. There’s no organic flow—you can painfully feel Howard and his crew straining to get the book’s main ideas on screen and have the characters say all those important things.

And the ending doesn’t provide near the stimulating epiphany it should; heck, Dogma packed more of a climactic punch, and that was a comedy. Hanks, truly one of our most likable and accessible actors, seems way too casual in this role—instead of convincing us he’s unraveling the secrets of Christianity and the truth about our Pagan origins, he seems more like an insurance investigator trying to determine fault in a highway fender bender. And there’s little real chemistry between him and Tautou, who provides visual appeal and charm, but doesn’t quite click considering the importance of her character. Bettany, McKellen, and Molina do fine for the most part, though, in their widely divergent roles.

It’s certainly a brave movie, and director Howard doesn’t shy away from the controversy, although he pads the script with some Christian-friendly utterances that weren’t in the book. But as a moviegoing experience, The Da Vinci Code is too contrived, too confusing, and too sloppily paced to provide the cinematic feast most hoped for. “It was like an overstuffed burrito,” a colleague said on the way out. Sadly, for a film that includes The Last Supper among its appetizers, this big-budget buffet is unlikely to satisfy any but the most undiscriminating moviegoer palate.

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