The Da Vinci CodeTheological Thriller a Mediocrity

Overshadowed by a ban in several countries and the Vatican’s legally confrontational denunciation, director Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code is not bad. Nor is it very good.

Based on the mega-bestseller by Dan Brown, Mr. Howard apparently softened the main character, a professor who studies the meaning of symbols played by Tom Hanks, by injecting him with faith—never a complement to a character whose livelihood depends on thought. Mr. Hanks’ mixed character bogs the whole thing down.

But it does twist and thrill. For a religious-based potboiler—indisputably siding with mysticism—the puzzle is tricky and sort of fun to follow. The plot—a conspiracy to conceal Christ’s true legacy—is pretty straight and relatively predictable.

Starting slower than a Catholic mass with a grotesquely cryptic murder in Paris’s Louvre, the professor is summoned from a book-signing to meet Jean Reno’s policeman at the crime scene, which resembles genius Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous drawing, Vitruvian Man. Enter a pretty young heroine played by Audrey Tatou who turns out to be the dead man’s granddaughter.

With stilted dialog between Tatou’s waif and Mr. Hanks, it feels like the novel’s plot points are crammed without discretion, and the effect is information overload early in the action. Akiva Goldsman’s (A Beautiful Mind) script piles on the puzzle’s pieces before making the players or the puzzle matter.

The Da Vinci Code recovers, with strong supporting performances, including Ian McKellen’s as the prof’s academic friend and colleague. Wanted for the murder, the couple on the run gets moving along, bumping into Silas, an albino “soldier for God” (Paul Bettany) who’s the most religious person in the picture. He abides Catholic morality, self-sacrifice, as fundamentally as a radical Moslem does; he is utterly without an ego.

The selfless albino, a member of a Catholic sub-sect led by Alfred Molina’s cellular phone-friendly priest, is on orders to extinguish the movie's truth about Jesus Christ. Jean Reno’s cop, operating from his own playbook, is rarely far behind. Among others, including Jurgen Prochnow—a terrific actor in a small role—everyone is suspect.

Long-haired Mr. Hanks and French-accented Tatou skedaddle across Europe, eluding gendarmes, escaping to a French chateau and jetting to London, all the while tracking clues and positing theories using their knowledge of history and Catholicism.

Tatou’s childhood takes on added significance as the pair come to possess another Da Vinci treasure that implicates the Holy Grail, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and—gasp!—the very foundations of the Catholic Church. Without spoiling the twists, it involves Jesus and, broadly, it secularizes Catholicism.

This will not endear the movie, which counts on basic history knowledge, to the comic book crowd, who will not get it, and, conversely, Mr. Howard would have been branded a blasphemer even had he added hundreds of Vatican gift shop product placements.

Plot turns are abundant and exhaustive, if occasionally surprising, though a vast left-wing conspiracy falls flat, and the characters are bland and contradictory in what amounts to a zero-sum game. Inconsistent use of subtitles and mini-flashbacks to episodic histories and relevant past events do not help.

Faith will set you free, The Da Vinci Code asserts half-heartedly, leaving an ineffectual Tom Hanks praying on his knees like an overgrown altar boy after a couple of mediocre hours of theology thrills that occupy the time like a Rubik’s Cube—with just as much intellectual value.

Originally by Box Office Mojo

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