Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 16 News List

A code that's too easy to break

Rushing through a complex novel in the space of two-and-a-half hours, Ron Howard covers plenty of ground, but loses the tension


Christians are outraged and albinos are offended and people around the world who have not even seen the film are angry simply, it seems, in preparation for being angry.

But everyone can just take a deep breath and calm down. Because the The Da Vinci Code is finally coming to theaters, and its biggest sin has nothing to do with the supposedly blasphemous nature of the source material, Dan Brown's blockbuster page turner.

Rather, its sin is of omission. Even at two and a half hours, director Ron Howard's adaptation feels cursory and rushed.

Then again, maybe Howard was doomed from the start. In taking an intricate book about a centuries-old religious mystery that's sold 60 million copies, Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman -- with whom he spun gold with 2001's Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind -- inevitably had to trim something. Otherwise, they would have ended up with a miniseries.

What they have jettisoned, however, is the tension.

The novel is by no means great literature, but it is enormously engrossing. Much of what sucks you in is watching Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and police cryptologist Sophie Neveu piece together clues left for them at a murder scene at the Louvre museum and at religious sites across Europe. They think things through; they draw from their experiences. They make mistakes; they finally solve one puzzle and move on to the next. And you are right alongside them, every breathless step of the way.

As played by longtime Howard favorite Tom Hanks and French actress Audrey Tautou, Robert and Sophie proceed from one problem to the next with such speed and ease, it's as if they are high-school kids on a scavenger hunt, looking for a stop sign and a No. 2 pencil.

Film Notes:

The Da Vinci Code

Directed by: Ron Howard

Starring: Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Jurgen Prochnow (Andre Vernet), Paul Bettany (Silas), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache)

Running time: 148 minutes

Taiwan Release: currently showing

Within seconds of finding the words "So dark the con of man," written on a painting in invisible ink, they realize it is an anagram for a work by Leonardo Da Vinci, which leads them to the next clue. And that mathematical sequence scrawled on the gallery floor? Of course it is the number of a Swiss bank account containing a hugely important portion of the secret.

It would help if we cared deeply about the characters who are willing to risk their lives to uncover this vast church cover-up -- to find the long-hidden truth about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Here, Robert and Sophie are barely fleshed out. We know a bit more about her because her mystery is the film's mystery; she finds out who she is as we find out more about the true nature of the Holy Grail. And Tautou, who's much prettier and more petite than the character in the book, nonetheless exhibits the necessary spunk and inquisitiveness for the role.

But Robert Langdon is little more than a tour guide in this version of The Da Vinci Code -- though the tour, much of which was shot on location in Paris and London, is beautifully and ominously photographed by Salvatore Totino, who also shot Howard's Cinderella Man.

In the book, Robert was a respected professor and famously sought-after bachelor in Boston. In the movie, he seems to have borrowed Rick Springfield's haircut, circa Jessie's Girl, and that's his most distinctive personality trait. As sturdy and versatile an actor as Hanks can be, he cannot work miracles when he has got nothing to work with.

The movie is actually more interesting when Robert and Sophie are not in it -- when they are on the run and everyone else is chasing them, from police captain and Opus Dei member Bezu Fache (a perfectly cast Jean Reno) to the opportunistic Bishop Aringarosa (an underused Alfred Molina) to Silas, the sadomasochistic albino assassin monk.

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