What blockbuster author Dan Brown needs more than anything right now is a witness protection program. If English teachers, theological archaeologists and script doctors across the land ever found out where he lives, his life wouldn’t be worth the pixels Ron Howard’s new film is made of. In addition to a jowly Tom Hanks reprising his lifeless role as Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon, and semi-smoldering Ayelet Zurer as CERN nuclear physicist with a stripper’s name, Vittoria Vetra — both avoiding even a neutrino of sexual chemistry — Angels & Demons had to be Brown’s high school term paper about that merry band of Renaissance conspirators known as the Illuminati.
Langdon is summoned to Rome where hell’s a poppin’ in the form of a vial of anti-matter (cooked up at CERN) that has fallen into the wrong hands. The Church is in disarray, having just lost one pope and heading toward seclusion in the Sistine Chapel (nice photoshopping here) to vote in a new pope. You see the possibilities, don’t you? Well, Ron Howard didn’t!
A bad guy who might be a good guy but really isn’t, (or is he?). The Catholic Church as loveable and totalitarian, a female scientist and male professor team who don’t even make eye contact — Angels & Demons is a long, boring exercise in postmodern “who needs a director?” filmmaking. Ron Howard should be shipped back to Mayberry and never, ever allowed to set foot inside the Eternal City again.
Poor Rome – most beautiful of Western architectural wonders. It barely survives this piece of hackwork. Yet it does, offering here and there some splendid bird’s eye views of the Pantheon, the iconic Castel San Angelo at night, St. Peter’s at sunset, the baroque eye candy of Bernini – some authentic, some very cunningly computer-generated. But those who know the city will be vastly amused to know that you can — especially if you’re a jowly American symbologist – drive through this warren of interlocking pre-Christian-era strada and alleys, in mere minutes.
Having recently visited the very same baroque landmarks featured in the film, I was looking forward to a visual feast. What Howard retained of those landmarks was indeed tasty, but otherwise even the opulence of Rome was drowned in a barrage of daytime TV dialogue, chase scenes to nowhere and a plot only Brown’s mother could tolerate. Where was some version of the wonderful Ian McKellen character – remember in The DaVinci Code – the crusty old scholar who turns backstory explanations into mesmerizing screen drama? Instead of scripting such a pivotal part, Howard put all of the esoteric geek-speak about the Baroque, about Catholic liturgical history, and what Galileo was really up to, etc. into preposterous dialogue between Langdon and the CERN babe. Every time they talk it’s a briskly improbable exchange of scholarly info, reinforced by a slightly reworded repetition of that info – inane to the max. I laughed out loud until I was silenced by the people sitting behind me.
Without revealing too much (as if it mattered!) I can tell you that you will leave this film knowing less about the Illuminati than you did going in. You will loathe and despise Tom Hanks. You will wonder why he ever took the role, and you will regret that it wasn’t offered to a) Daniel Craig, b) Hugh Jackman, or c) Tilda Swinton.