Here’s when I knew The Da Vinci Code was in trouble: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), Harvard Professor of Symbology, cracks an important code within seconds, only to follow up his achievement with a blank stare and an emotionless, Keanu Reeves-style “whoa”. He is not excited to be there; we’re not excited to watch him. The magic is lost from Dan Brown's fictitious bestseller on its way to the big screen. Rabid protestors don't have much to worry about—the emperor has no clothes, and what remains is far from pretty.
The Da Vinci Code is a 2.5 hour thriller surprisingly low on thrills. Langdon and Neveu (Audrey Tautou) are a tag team of code-cracking experts trying to solve the murder of Neveu’s grandfather, a museum curator at the Louvre (Jean-Pierre Marielle). His body is carved up like a thanksgiving turkey, riddled with religious symbols that may lead to the culprit. A French policeman (Jean Reno) has been tipped that Langdon is to blame, and flaunting his incompetence, proceeds to chase him all over Europe. It’s a "Les Miserables" style manhunt, except the stunning tunes of the musical have been replaced by a melodramatic, overwrought score from Hans Zimmer.
The real criminal is Silas (Paul Bettany), an assailant monk who resembles an albino version of Darth Maul. Maybe if he stopped flogging himself to suffer like Christ, some of the blood could circulate back to his face. Silas is determined to guard secrets about the roots of Christianity, while Langdon and Neveu seek to unleash them with the help of a scholar (Ian McKellen), using clues hidden in famous Leonardo Da Vinci paintings. It’s a battle between good and evil: Opus Dei (a real group fictionalized for the movie) seeks to kill, while Priory of Sion (a made-up group based on a proven hoax) seeks to protect. It becomes clear fairly quickly that both groups are in over their heads and deserve pink slips.
Since the film’s central cast is a huge misfire, The Da Vinci Code is doomed from the start. Hanks is never believable as a brilliant intellectual type, and he meanders through the movie with a concerned face and furrowed brow. He looks and acts more like a worried parent on the PTA than a daring, heady adventurer. Howard is a good director but he needs to distance himself from prior bonds—Hanks (Apollo 13) is the wrong man for the lead and Akiva Goldsman (Cinderella Man) can’t write the kind of sharp dialogue needed to keep the movie interesting. Instead, he uses a long series of religious asides told in flashbacks, while lengthy narrations drone on like college lectures.
The tragedy of The Da Vinci Code is that the revelations and conspiracies are incredibly interesting, but the rest of the movie is not. The story molds into an overlong, tedious action thriller, with far too many breaks (a key here, a safe passage clause there), an excess of twists, and about four different endings. For a film that deals with intelligent subject matter, it seems determined to insult our intelligence with a rainstorm of improbabilities. That would be fine if the movie were fun to watch, but it takes itself far too seriously to crack a smile here and there. You know a movie of this caliber is a colossal disappointment when it pales in comparison to the similarly-themed National Treasure. Somewhere, Mona Lisa is frowning.