Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, J�rgen Prochnow, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Clive Carter, Seth Gabel
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, based on a novel by Dan Brown
Directed by: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content
Running Time: 149
Date: 05/17/2006

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Groana Lisa

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I love treasure hunt movies, especially when there's a Library Scene. In a Library Scene, characters sit around in a musty old library hunting through ancient books -- preferably the kind with latches and locks on the front -- solving puzzles from the ages. The Indiana Jones movies are full of Library Scenes, and even the Tomb Raider movies took an earnest stab at them.

Ron Howard's new film, The Da Vinci Code, has them, too, but Howard drains the breathless wonder from these scenes, directing them with the same bland, even tone as the rest of the film, even the chase scenes; he's the film director as auto pilot. (All his films have the same lifelessness, from holiday blockbusters like The Grinch to Oscar bait like A Beautiful Mind.)

Even worse is the screenplay by the lamentable Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for the horrible A Beautiful Mind (2001) but also wrote the equally horrible Batman & Robin (1997). Ostensibly aimed at six year-olds and mental vegetables, the script explains everything twice, spelling out the big words three times, so that even if you've never heard of Jesus or Mary Magdalene you can still figure out this story.

In it, Symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in to help investigate a murder in the Louvre. He meets Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who warns him that the investigating officer (Jean Reno) is trying to pin the murder on him. The pair flits around the Parisian night, following a trail of clues, trying to discover the reason behind the murder. It leads to a giant conspiracy, a huge cover-up perpetuated by a secret society within the Catholic Church. And though the codes were dreamed up by a Frenchman, they're conveniently written in English!

Paul Bettany plays the real murderer, and we know he's a bad guy because he's an albino! (Albinos are reportedly as upset as the Church.) Only Ian McKellen strikes the right note of joviality as a religious scholar with a twinkle in his eye, lurching around on two canes like Everett Sloane in Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (1948).

The Church itself is pretty upset about some of the (admittedly very cool) ideas presented in the film, but better they should have been upset about how stupid it is. If you're looking for much smarter religious revisionist movies, try Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) or Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999).

DVD Details: Due to overwhelming demand, Sony sent me the pan-and-scan version of this disc, so it didn't really change my opinion of the film. It comes with "10 behind the scenes featurettes," which I assume are made up of the usual clips and talking heads. It's a two-disc set and there are no other features, so look out for an even bigger, more expensive "special edition" sometime in the next six months.

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