Sony Pictures execs must be thanking Heaven for Tom Hanks. The all-American nice guy actor is the perfect buffer to offset the controversy surrounding the release of the film version of mega-bucks bestseller "The Da Vinci Code."
Throughout the two-and-half-hour apocryphal religious history thriller, Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon throws out a lion's share of skepticism regarding the author Dan Brown's radical revelations, particularly the big one theorizing that Jesus Christ's secret marriage to Mary Magdalene produced a daughter and a bloodline to a family in France. Langdon's chief competition in the puzzle-guessing game comes from Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen), a fanatical professor who buys into the Jesus bloodline bit. Sir Teabing's dissertation is one of the movie's many lectures and the most interesting in that it ties together all the threads of the cryptic code of artist Leonardo Da Vinci. It involves the placement of the disciples in the famous "Last Supper" painting, motives of the Knights of Templar and Catholic cult Opus Dei, as well as the "real" meaning of the Holy Grail (how did Monty Python miss out on this?)
The problem for Director Ron Howard is how to make a movie out of this mess. He does what he can with the material, which is almost wall-to-wall exposition. He inserts flashbacks to Biblical and medieval times, resembling outtakes from the History Channel. He also keeps Langdon and his non-sexual sidekick, French police woman Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), on the run, although we're not sure why. A masochistic Albino monk-turned-hit man Silas (Paul Bettany) is blatantly performing murders of which Parisian Detective Fache (Jean Reno) is determined to accuse peaceful intellectual Langdon. It finally all boils down to this decoding cylinder...looking strangely like the Rabbit's Foot in "Mission: Impossible III" or Austin Power's mojo from "Goldmember."
"The Da Vinci Code" has a built-in audience, proven by its $77 million opening weekend in the United States ($240 million worldwide). But will the multitude of Brown readers and the simply curious nonreaders keep forking out money to see a movie that is essentially boring?