Da Vinci Code, The

The story itself involves a number of conspiracies surrounding Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University, who, while on a book tour through Paris, is called upon by the local police to assist with the identification of some mysterious cryptograms relating to the murder of Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre with whom Langdon was supposed to meet with that very day. Unbeknownst to Langdon, he has been named the prime suspect in Sauniere’s murder, and being lead into a trap by the police. Thankfully, although it is always the case with stories like this, Langdon has one ally, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a pretty and young French cryptographer in the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire who, as always is the case with stories like this, has a greater connection to the happenings than anyone within the story could imagine. Langdon and Neveu try to stay one step ahead of the cops as they unravel the mystery.

The mystery here is not whether Langdon will be proven innocent (when was the last time in modern cinema an A-list actor starred as a wanted man who ended up being guilty of the very things he was accused ofr) or whether the Da Vinci Code will be broken (you don’t have to have read the book to know it would be), but how so many supposedly talented people could make such a boring mess of a film. Maybe “The Da Vinci Code” proves the axiom that, even if you have actors like Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen in a film produced by someone like Brian Grazer and directed by someone like Ron Howard, if the basic mechanics of the story doesn’t work, the end result cannot help but be disappointing. Even the most infinitesimal examination of the plot points shows how thinly stretched the story already was. How is it, for example, that Sauniere, whose lifeless body was found pretty much in the same place he was shot, had time to write so many cryptic notes to Langdon and Neveu, in some kind of invisible ink (or magic blood that cannot be seen unless someone shines an ultraviolet light on it), AND leave several other clues in other places around the Louvre, before committing the act of self-mutilation that acts as the springboard for getting Langdon into the story, all before dyingr How does Neveu come to possess jpegs of the murder scene, and how does Bezu (Jean Reno), the DCPJ captain in charge of the investigation, allow her to access the crime scene, considering her connection to the deceased (and his own connection to the conspiracy)r How does The Teacher, who has set up the entire chain of events, know Sauniere will leave enough clues so someone like Langdon or Neveu will figure them out and discover the location of the hidden artifacts AND know either character will be able to escape the Louvre and thus the police with the missing artifacts AND will be able to bring those artifacts, or additional artifacts to be discovered thanks to the first group of artifacts, to one specific person who happens to be the world’s foremost authority in one specific discipline of theological theory that really have nothing to do with the clues Sauniere left thus farr

Maybe we’re not supposed to be thinking about these things while watching, and just sit there in our theatre seats like automatons and ignore every impractical or impossible beat point. After all, this is no longer just a movie but a global phenomenon that we are supposed to become a part of, according to the advertising tagline. It is doubtful Howard, Hanks, Grazer and the other actors and craftspeople set out to make such a lugubrious mess. But that’s what happens when one makes an action thriller which features very few scenes of excitement or mystery, more wannabe “surprise” story twists than the worst M. Night Shyamalan movie and a “kitchen sink” mentality of keeping in far too many picayune moments in the hopes of creating a covenant with the book’s many fans, much to the detriment of those who didn’t read the book or desire to sit through a bonus half hour of superfluous elucidation.

Instead of trying to craft a work that would last long after the phenomenon has died, the film suffers from many of the same faults that befell “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” another blockbuster novel-to-screen adaptation to star Tom Hanks which featured a very good actor woefully miscast in the lead role (when your story calls for a Harrison Ford, you get Harrison Ford… thus saving us from piffle like “Firewall,” which is always a good thing), an okay leading actress also woefully miscast because she was the biggest name who naturally fit the role (when a somewhat lesser known but far more interesting actress like Cecile De France or Charlotte Gainsbourg, or even a Sophie Marceau, would have been a superior choice), a rush to get the product out before it became irrelevant and a talented director who was probably not the finest choice to bring the best out of the material in question. Not that this film is as bad as the 1990 Brian DePalma movie. What “Da Vinci” ultimately needed was a team that was willing to possibly anger the sizeable core fan group of the source material by making certain changes that made the story work better, but when you have hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, playing it safe is clearly the fiscally responsible thing to do. And, once more, fans of invigorating and challenging cinema weep and wonder when the next Cassavetes will show up and shake things up in Hollywood like a cultural earthquake.

On the plus side, cinematographer Salvatore Totino does give audiences some pretty travelogue shots of England and France, and there are some fairly convincing makeup effects to show Silas’s devotion to self-flagellation.

Rating: D