The Da Vinci Code (12A)

More dog's dinner than Last Supper

For Christ's sake! If this movie sends a single shockwave through true believers then one can only assume that their faith rests on pathetically frail foundations. Choosing to picket cinemas that screen The Da Vinci Code makes about as much sense as picketing a Monopoly board for a perceived unfairness over property rents. Nobody has cause to worry about this preposterous confection, and that includes the studio trying to sell it: the air of hallowed secrecy thrown about the project should guarantee success for at least a couple of weeks.

Consider this instead: could anything of intellectual value or emotional excitement actually spring from the pen of the same man who wrote Batman & Robin? Akiva Goldsman (for it is he) may well have done a bang-up job of adapting the Dan Brown bestseller - I can't tell, not having read it - but what has ended up on screen is roughly as compelling as a bowl of wax fruit. The director, Ron Howard, and his cinematographer Salvatore Totino have coated its mostly night-time scenes in a kind of expensive glaze, hoping that shadowy interiors and moonlit intrigues will somehow compensate for the drama that's so lacking in its narrative.

The Da Vinci Code is nothing more than an elaborate treasure hunt pasted with lashings of Catholic doctrine, ritual and iconography. It sets itself a spurious "puzzle" and proceeds to solve it, slowly, doggedly, like someone who's forgotten the combination on their bicycle lock and tries one sequence of numbers after another. It begins in Paris, where one of the curators at the Louvre has been found murdered, his corpse scored and striped like a geometrist's notepad. Before the man expired, however, he obligingly left a series of cryptic clues addressed to his learned colleague, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a semiotics professor who happens to be in town promoting his new book. No sooner has he been summoned to the crime scene than gorgeous police cryptologist Sophie (Audrey Tautou) is helping him escape the clutches of a police detective (Jean Reno) who is in alliance with Opus Dei, a Catholic cult so sinister that members talk in Latin even on their mobile phones. Horresco referens!

In the way of sinister cults, they have their own crack assassin, an albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany) who likes to spend his downtime in frenzied bouts of self-flagellation (I told you there were lashings). He too has a mobile phone, incongruously hidden in his monk's cowl, on which he communicates to his "master". At first we assume this shady personage to be Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), a name helpfully interpreted for us in the press notes, "aringa" meaning herring, and "rosa" being red. "Does this mean the Bishop is a red herring?" people have asked. While you decide, the film makes just enough of his accoutrements - episcopal bling, private jet, opulent chambers complete with billiard table - to damn him as a vulgarian, if not wholly to implicate him as a murderer.

The dashing prof and his cryptologist, meanwhile, have fled Paris and found refuge at the house of Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), conveniently situated some miles from the capital. Even more conveniently Sir Leigh is a world expert on the Holy Grail, and so can explain the cryptogram of Da Vinci's "Last Supper" painting and the murky theological arguments encoded within. Did I say "explain"? What he actually does is yarn a great deal about an immemorial conspiracy, sponsored by Opus Dei, to hush up the true significance of the Grail. The central tenet of this outlawed interpretation is that Mary Magdalene was Christ's wife, and that she was supposed to be the one to continue His church.

Well, it might not be "the greatest cover-up in history", but it's not uninteresting as a theory; unfortunately, it comes hedged around by so many complications and caveats that in the end you can barely make it out. The Knights Templar; The Witch's Hammer; The Priory of Sion; The Council of Shadows: these are just a few of the names portentously intoned to suggest what a deeply inscrutable Code this is, but what the eye might slide over in Dan Brown's book becomes, up on screen, an increasingly dour and dreary gabfest. This may be the talkiest blockbuster ever made and, while it exists on a slightly higher plane of intelligence than George Lucas, it partakes of the same long-winded intricacy as Star Wars. At times the film-makers seem to wake up to the fact that there's too much talk and not enough action. Their solution is to contrive a number of tight spots for Hanks and Tautou, then simply apply the old formula, "with one bound they were free". A child improvising an adventure story could manage something more gripping.

Ron Howard and his producers decided not to hold test screenings of the film, a bold and virtually unprecedented step that might yet rebound on them. It's not simply that The Da Vinci Code is difficult to understand - Hitchcock made trickier movies than this and still seduced audiences. But he understood that a mystery thriller doesn't have to be credible, it just has to be convincing. Howard and Co haven't really got a clue, and their attempts to meld cerebral concerns with thriller imperatives sometimes come a terrible cropper. At one point, when the scene has switched to London, hero and heroine stop on a street. Hanks says, "I need to get to a library - fast", an exquisitely boring line that's made ridiculous when the pair of them then board (wait for it) a London bus. Yes, that should get them there fast. No need to worry, though, because on the top deck they can consult a stranger with a Blackberry-type gizmo that accesses all the info they need.

As for the performances, you couldn't call Hanks and Tautou a charismatic pairing. He wears his hair in a kind of stunted mullet, while his features barely deviate from a waxy unease; Tautou is distractingly pretty but wooden, and delivers her lines on a single note of petulance. Then again, they've had to cope with a script that would squeeze the life out of anyone's performance: the two basic expressions required are brow-furrowing bemusement and reverential awe, the latter supplied in full measure by Hans Zimmer's overwrought score. The real wonders of the Catholic faith end up here in much the same condition as they do in every Hollywood movie - as schlock. Hardly the Devil's work, I suppose, but nothing to be proud of, either.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?