Nothing is more vital in film reviewing than the necessity of standing up for the integrity of a good movie other critics are trashing. Early reports of critics hissing at The Da Vinci Code at the Cannes Film Festival set off alarms of highbrow distaste for American blockbusters. (The Dan Brown novel is just too popular. Tom Hanks is too likable a star. Ron Howard is too indistinctly competent.) It would be a familiar injustice, were the truth less grim. This is a miserable, uninspired slog of a film.
The Da Vinci Code could have been titled SuDoku: The Movie. Much of its two-and-a-half hours consists of “symbologist” Robert Langdon (Hanks) solving puzzles to decode clues. His mathematical formula for decoding anagrams (when he looks at them, the letters light up in the right order) may make for intriguing literature, but in movies it’s about as much fun as watching a stranger do a crossword. It’s one of many literary suspense scenes that don’t translate through media. Books aren’t movies, but since the novel sold bazillions the film version can’t stray greatly from its source.
Langdon is summoned to the scene of a murder in the Louvre and, with the aid of the victim’s granddaughter Sophie (Audrey Tautou), is led to some clues that may reshape the teachings of Christianity. The potentially fascinating concept isn’t met by Akiva Goldsman’s worst screenplay since Batman and Robin. He and Howard deliver the absurd product of a movie about faith bereft of feeling, let alone spirituality. The whole film is like the initial scene of an Indiana Jones movie, played repeatedly and absolutely seriously, with none of the fun follow-through. The hilarious moment in the Da Vinci Code-inspired National Treasure, where clue-hating Jon Voight protests from the back of a church, “It’s just another clue!” is likely to be echoed in the minds of discriminating viewers.
The Da Vinci Code could have also been titled When Albinos Attack. Sporting the most universally white cast of any recent megafilm, the requisite ethnic badguy is a growling albino monk played by Paul Bettany. He jumps out at the heroes with a knife on two occasions. Howard really needs to hone his suspense techniques if I’m expected to find this scary. Because discussion of religious symbols and Leonardo Da Vinci paintings (the bulk of the film) doesn’t directly make for interesting cinema, Howard is left compensating with floral camera moves. His repeated swoops over the roofs of buildings gives them scale, but there’s no communicated effect and meaning. The baroque nighttime feel of the first 40 minutes has real distinction. Any visual atmosphere soon gets crushed by the numbing weight of the dialogue. It’s a whole movie of exposition. Like Poseidon, The Da Vinci Code becomes harder to take seriously by its opting not to have a sense of humour.
The inevitable porn knockoff will be titled Da Vinci’s Load. Expect a much different dynamic between its stars than the sexless match-up of Robert and Sophie. Tautou gets to look pretty and respond to every discovery made with the declaration of shock, “Professeur!” Hanks’s thankless role is effete and boring. At the end Robert only gets to kiss Sophie on the forehead. The Da Vinci Code doesn’t even deliver as fantasy.
Howard and Goldsman’s debt to the novel’s success doesn’t allow their work to stand as a film. After Date Movie, it’s the young movie year’s dullest thud.
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