The Da Vinci Code: Coded for the Sleepy Masses

Over two years ago, I’m at a bar, meeting a few friends. Around the table, conversation is awash with tales of an exciting new book that everyone wants to get their hands on. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed to be Mr. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and a rather scuffed looking copy at that seeing as several members of the clique have been going to great pains in circulating it amongst themselves.

After sitting through a lengthy recount of what TDVC is all about, I still didn’t really get it, much as I have yet to get the hoopla around that magician-cum-heartthrob, Harry Potter. Then again, I’m not a big fan of religion-inspired high adventure, and think that Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail remains the franchise’s weakest outing by far.

But this is a bias, and to those enamored with the book at hand, my sincerest apologies. Although never having read TDVC may put this reviewer at a certain disadvantage, it also allows me to behold its cinematic rendition with more of a clean slate. Building on those pillars, I still don’t see the great attraction, as Ron Howard’s long-winded motion picture, although far from a catastrophe of biblical proportions, comes across equally removed from big-screen supremacy.

Taking its cue from mysticism and backstage whisperings about the legacy of Christ on this earth, The Da Vinci Code puts itself in a precarious position by establishing most of its premise on assumptions any budding cynic will easily discount. On top of that, the story lacks a fantastical punch to compensate for the above-mentioned shortcoming, unlike previously discussed Indiana Jones and its various counterparts. TDVC’s most formidable challenge lies in selling mind-blowing theory in a straight-faced style more suited to a documentary, and unfortunately, it’s one hurdle the pseudo-opus fails to surmount.

In fact, at two hours and quite a bit of change, Da Vinci sags noticeably in the frills department, putting viewers to sleep faster than on the edge of their seats. And while the almost complete lack of tacky visual red herrings is commendable, it nonetheless contributes to the general state of languor afflicting this project.

Perhaps, then, its main audience should in fact be those legions of converted fans who’ve read the book and took to it. They certainly have much to enjoy here, even if they emerge disappointed. At least the comparison between the two formats in itself can be pleasurable for those in the know.

As a standalone film, we have little to recommend here. The story’s decent enough, but again, minus suitably mind-blowing slights of hand comes in as a distinct ho-hum letdown. In terms of acting, as well, nary a highlight crops up. Tom Hanks appears as Robert Langdon, a US researcher and novelist specializing in ancient cultures and symbolism. Langdon’s international repute marks him as a man wanted by French officials in a Louvre murder investigation. The main cop, done by Jean Reno, presents an ambiguous character with an agenda we’re not supposed to glimpse early on, but due to a lackluster performance on the part of Reno, nor do we really care to anyway. Much the same can be said of Hanks, who’s usually a solid actor. Here he’s flying on instrumentation only, almost entirely devoid of gusto.

Additional also-rans in TDVC include young female lead Audrey Tatuou, who we loved in Amelie and Happenstance, as Langdon’s righthand lady and professional object of desire, Sophie. Save for being pretty in a Lolita kind of way, Tautou adds little to the course of this movie. There’s also the conspiratorial contingent, led by stalwart Ian McKellen. This guy’s getting somewhat long in the tooth, to the point where one can no longer discern between him as eccentric man of the occult Sir Leigh Teabing and as world-dominating mutant Magneto. Identical tantrums in either case.

Probably the only ones really doing their jobs faithfully are Paul Bettany as errand-assassin Silas (beforehand we saw him alongside Russell Crowe in Master and Commander), and former Dr. Octopus of Spiderman 2 infamy, Alfred Molina. He does a church operative coordinating schemes aimed at silencing the greatest secretive conspiracy ever, and together with Bettany gives the movie its only impactful ingredient. At times Silas’s violence repulses enough to induce the odd cringe, thankfully.

Without giving away the plot to those few uninitiated still out there, the struggle to trace Jesus Christ’s living heritage in the modern world brings into conflict several factions, including science, the law, the clergy and an underground secret society. This arguably sounds like a recipe for explosive antics, but in truth has no such effect. For all the anger and furor over TDVC’s alleged blasphemy, it poses in reality little threat to anybody’s feelings or belief systems, not simply due to freedom of speech issues, but because it’s so flat and uninspired.

The best thing we can say of Da Vinci, as a work of cinema, is that it keeps rolling at a steady clip and steers clear of cheap trickery. It has you sitting there, ever on the verge of dozing off, but not wholly in pain.

Otherwise, there’s hardly any facet of it worth getting worked up over. It’s not touching, moving or stirring, possesses no groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, and provides barely detectable quantities of good acting.

Is torment the exact opposite of pleasure? Maybe not. Look at The Da Vinci Code, proof positive there’s at the very least 150 minutes of middle ground between the two.

Rating: * * �½

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