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'Da Vinci' Crap

By Jeremy Mathews
The Da Vinci Code
1/2 (out of four)
Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ron Howard

Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown

Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina
Rated PG-13

"The Da Vinci Code" is a film of such staggering stupidity, condescension and clumsiness that I'm not sure which is more astounding—that the book it's based on has sold more than 40 million copies or that Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina were all involved in it.

A quick look at the first paragraph of Dan Brown's "novel" pretty much proves that the film is a better route to familiarizing yourself with the story than actually reading the book. But the only reason to engage in either unpleasantry is to catch up with a pop-culture phenomenon.

The opening sequence alone requires the following unlikelihoods: (1) There are no security cameras in the Louvre, the biggest, most famous museum in the world. (2) There are no security guards in the Louvre. (3) After receiving a fatal bullet wound, a museum curator whose native language is French—and who knows what we call the "Mona Lisa" as "La Joconde"—would have time to devise a code and draw a circle around his body, a pentagram on his chest and a complex English-language anagram leading to the Mona Lisa. (4) When an alarm is triggered in the Louvre, a gate comes down, but no one bothers to go investigate the Grand (yes, Grand) Gallery until the curator has drawn his last writing-with-his-own-blood breath.

Maybe no one was around because it was August, when all the French people take off work.

Hanks stars as a professor named Robert Langdon who is an expert on symbols, codes, Da Vinci (whose name is actually Leonardo, but I digress) and the divine feminine, which is a goddess whose symbol has become that of Satan in recent history. When the police finally find that corpse at the Louvre, the dead man has written "find Robert Langdon" and some other nonsense in invisible flashlight ink—along with some drawings in blood that make the victim look like Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man." So the police bring Langdon in to help decipher the code. Soon, however, the murder victim's granddaughter (Tautou), a code-expert at the police department, teams up with Langdon and helps him escape a trap. The duo run from the police as they try to track down the man's albino monk killer (Bettany) and discover the secret tomb of Mary Magdalene.

Any film looking to impose such ridiculousness on its viewers needs to be light-hearted and brimming with spectacle. Instead, director Howard has produced two and a half inexplicable hours of overly serious, mind-numbing drudge.

While watching "The Da Vinci Code," I even found myself looking back fondly on "National Treasure." By no means a good movie, the Nicholas Cage vehicle nevertheless managed to intersperse a bit of humor and fun into its "Da Vinci"-esque slog of interminable puzzle-chase-puzzle-chase repetition.

And all the supposedly ingenious puzzles are a tad lame. What's lamer, however, is the supposedly brilliant characters' need to explain everything ad nauseam. When they discover an engraving with backwards writing, one character urgently delcares, "We need a mirror!" Yes, it's impossible to read reversed writing. .elbissopmI

The film's mystery is fairly obvious before the halfway point, so the biggest surprise twist is that Hanks has to state the solution to the grand puzzle at least five times at the end. Considering that everyone but me has supposedly read the novel, I can just imagine how over-explained everything will seem to those who know the story.

Howard, the film's editors, Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill, and countless producers would have had to discuss the film's scenes and fine-tune them, and yet many sequences feel like rough assemblies that have yet to be properly paced. I can't begin to imagine what it was like in the editing room. But wait, there's something in my crystal ball…

Howard: That scene was pretty good. But do we have any more shots of Tom looking at Audrey knowingly?

Hill: Uh…

Howard: I hope we don't have to go back for reshoots.

Hill: I think we can find something, but—

Howard: And about the revelation about the phrase "a Pope," I think we need a little more explanation.

Hill: But we already explained it when he did an internet search on that guy's cell phone.

Hanley: What? Is that what was going on there? I thought the guy was just showing him that his search terms were too broad. I didn't think they had anything to do with the puzzle at hand!

Howard: See what I mean, Mike? You understand it because you watched the footage over and over again while fine-tuning this scene to cinematic perfection. But the average Joe, he's not gonna get it if we don't explain it to him three times.

Hill: I suppose you're right.

Howard: What about the closing revelation scene?

Hanley: We added all the additional—

Hill: repetitive lines—

Hanley: insights that you wanted. I think it's really coming together now.

Howard: Well let's take a look…

(Ten minutes that feel like an hour later…)

Howard: It's perfect!

Hill and Hanley (together): Thanks.

Hill: One more thing. Uh…it might be a little late to ask this, but how would comparing someone's DNA with Mary Magdalene's prove she was a descendant of Jesus?

(Hanley and Howard stare at Hill, silently.)

Hill: Nevermind.

Howard: Now if only we had some more shots of Tom looking up information in the book that his character wrote…

jeremy [at]


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