The Da Vinci Code

2 stars


11th July 2006

Try as I might, I just can't avoid this bloody thing. Tom Hanks leers at me from bus stops, Audrey Tautou pouts at me from magazines and Jean Reno gives me French attitude from tube adverts - even the tap-dancing hobo on the Piccadilly Line is tying in his religious mumbo-jumbo with the impending release of Dan Brown's biblical behemoth. Having resisted the lure of the book thus far, I nonetheless fell victim to the Hollywood hype and braved the hobo-ridden underground to catch what I hoped would be a mystery thriller up there with the best of them, a bespectacled intellectual that could stand up to the action bully boys in the summer blockbuster playground.

When a curator is murdered at The Louvre museum in Paris, the message he scrawls in his own blood seems to implicate Robert Langdon (Hanks), a professor who specialises in ancient symbols and religious imagery (he's probably a hoot at parties, too). When warned of a plot to incriminate him in the murder by pretty cryptologist Sophie Deveu (Tautou), the two go on the lam, desperate to uncover a riddle left by the dying curator that might lead to his killer, while boorish police chief Fache (Reno) tries and fails to hunt them down. Before long, the two are caught up in shitstorm of biblical proportions as it becomes clear that they are part of a much bigger cover-up than suspected; the murders, the codes and the riddles are all tied to the bloodlines of Christ and the Holy Grail itself.

But hey, you've read the book. In fact, maybe you can help me out. I guess my first question would be: what the fuck? The first rule of The Da Vinci Code: pay attention. It might sound like an obvious thing to say, but mull over one of the many plot twists or needless moments of exposition for too long and you'll get bogged down in religious gobbledegook and semi-blasphemous Godspeak. Your average audience member will likely struggle with the movie's more muddled scenes in which Jesus's heritage is discussed at length; The Da Vinci Code not only requires you to have read the book it's based on, but an intimate knowledge of The Bible would be a head start if you want to keep up during the talky bits. For lovers of late night Channel 5 religious conspiracy theory programmes and Knights Templar works of fiction, you may well get a kick out of what Churchy Brown is trying to say. For those of us whose last read was 4-4-2 magazine, you'd best bite your lip and concentrate.

The problems don't end with the verbose nature of the story - after all, you'd expect a big-budget Hollywood movie to gloss over some of the finer points of Brown's novel in favour of maybe some exciting chase scenes or action set-pieces. Apparently not - the quest for the Holy Grail merely contains mild peril. Hank's bookish professor is just not interesting enough to carry a movie - in no way is the line "I need to get to a library... fast!" exciting - and is frankly a bit of a bore, an armchair Indiana Jones, if you will. He makes for a dull leading man and makes little effort to vie for your attention - the closest we get to a back story is a flashback about Robert falling down a well as a child (it obviously takes a literary genius to create a character of such depth and emotion). Tautou is adorable and still channelling that Amelie charm, but for the most part she looks as confused as the audience. A romance angle is poorly handled and eventually abandoned: "For a girl, you sure do know a lot about Cryptex," is the closest Hanks gets to a chat-up line. Bonnie and Clyde they are not.

Thankfully it's not all as depressing as a Monday morning R.E. lesson. Ian McKellen in a crucial role is a real high point yet only serves to remind you how saggy everything else when he's off screen - his cantankerous old gipper at least looks like he's having fun. Paul Bettany looks the part as Silas the self-flagellating killer monk and does raise some interesting questions about killing in the name of the Lord - in the movie's most intense scene, Tautou corners the albino hitman and hisses damnation at him ("Your God doesn't condone murderers... he burns them!"). Besides, it's unquestionably cool to see a monk carrying a gun and a mobile phone, purely for the image of him playing Snake 3D in his spare time between his Heaven-sent hits. Meanwhile, Alfred Molina plays a Bishop who hails from somewhere between Rome and Kensington (either that or he just couldn't be bothered with an accent). When a movie takes itself as serious as this, it's difficult not to poke fun at it.

Lovers of the book probably won't be quite as eager to pick it apart as I, but the fact is that it doesn't have the spectacle to hold the attention of the literary vacant, and that accounts for a large percentage of the movie going public. Ron Howard's direction is so middle-of-the-road it might as well have a white line running through it, while it simultaneously manages to feel too long yet rushed at the same time - you'll feel like you need a second viewing to take it all in, but by sweet Mary Magdalene, you simply won't want to sit through it again. Unfortunately it seems that the nerdy bookworm won't be able to stand up to the muscle-bound jocks this year and will likely get the wedgie it deserves - with more preaching than your average Sunday service and more twists than a Turkey Twizzler, you'll probably get more sense out of that tap-dancing hobo on the Piccadilly Line. The disappointment of the summer so far.

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