Monday, February 04, 2008

I liked it better when he just talked to the volleyball: "The Da Vinci Code"

OK, so I've now read the book and seen the movie. But I am not going to the opera.

I somewhat begrudgingly paged through "The Da Vinci Code" on the tail end of the nationwide fervor over the "book," which earned those quotation marks with its incessant teeny tiny chapters. Seriously, three or four pages, then bam! Next chapter. It really was annoying after a while, and that format and the overdone writing in general outweighed the halfway intriguing idea of a conspiracy that ties together Jesus, Leonardo (not the teenage mutant ninja turtle) and the Vatican, not to mention "Amelie" and Kip from "Bosom Buddies."

There was no way I was going to see the movie version in theaters, not when "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties" was also out there. I mean, Jon Arbuckle is my hero. On a free movie channel, though, "The Da Vinci Code" seemed worth consideration, at least until I could catch "They Live" for the 19th time.

Our story follows an American professor who knows all about symbols and such (Tom Hanks) and a cute French cryptologist (Audrey Tautou) -- I must have missed that one at Career Day -- after they find her grandfather dead inside the Louvre, that big-ass museum in Gay Paree. Turns out grandpa isn't just dead but positioned oddly -- the first of a series of clues that lead our intrepid pair around Paris and to other parts of Europe. Pursued by a weird albino monk with a thing for masochism (Paul Bettany), the couple learn about a mystery that could shake the pillars of the Catholic Church. For once, the controversy doesn't involve altar boys.

Along with Hanks and Tautou, we get a bang-up cast that includes Ian McKellen, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina. Helming this expose into Opus Dei is Opie himself, Ron Howard. (Still can't believe he didn't wash out after "Grand Theft Auto.") So yeah, plenty of talented people involved. Too bad the result is alternately boring and muddled -- rarely a good combo.

It's funny ... the short chapters in the book, while annoying, didn't keep me from getting Dan "Down with the Church" Brown's idea: that the Catholic Church has worked to keep the news that Jesus Christ has a bloodline lasting to this day under wraps. Sure, much of it was hard to swallow, but OK, we'll go with it.

In the movie, it's a lot harder to understand exactly what these people are talking (and talking and talking) about. And I read the book! Howard uses the technique of pseudo re-enactments while people are talking to show what they mean, but that doesn't help. Things really start grinding to a halt when our heroes meet up with McKellen, and the bursts of action before and after that don't do enough to offset the slog.

There's really no need to bring theology and doctrine and all that jazz into our discussion here when the rambling story and wooden performances -- c'mon ... smile Tom! And dude, what's with the hair? -- do quite enough to bring the movie down. Everyone here has done better work in other movies -- in some cases countless other movies.

By the end, I got the sense that they were in "Code" not because this is any great story because it was sure to be a blockbuster. And it was, grossing more than $217 mil in the U.S. and plenty more abroad. But no question that mark will be left far behind once Hanks greenlights "Buffy's Bogus Journey: The Bosom Buddies Movie."

POSTSCRIPT: Sometimes I read critics' reviews after a post just to see if they were as smart as me. With "The Da Vinci Code," this was hugely entertaining. If you have a few minutes, check out some of the top critics, who savage the book as much as the movie. The New Yorker may have been my favorite.


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