The Da Vinci Code (12A)

Holy blood, Holy Grail... unholy mess

The Vatican, Opus Dei and the Greek Orthodox Church have all been up in arms, while Catholics in Mumbai have threatened to starve to death if The Da Vinci Code is released in India. Here in Cannes, where the film opened the festival on Wednesday, critics can only admire the conviction of the Mumbai demonstrators; most of us would happily have seen the movie pulled, but grudgingly sat through it without so much as giving up a plate of bouillabaisse in protest.

It's strange to imagine that a film co-starring Audrey Tautou could be considered improper, let alone heretical. Who'd ever have figured that nice Amélie as the Whore of Babylon? I was rather hoping for a scene in which she discovers the face of Satan leering out from under the crust of her crème brûlée. Anyway, there haven't yet been riots on the Croisette over the film, apart from a contingent of persistent nuns hovering forbiddingly outside the Palais.

So is the film better or worse than Dan Brown's best-seller? Worse. At least you can throw the book out of the Eurostar window; with the film, you're trapped for two-and-a-half hours. Those of you who haven't read the novel, you can both turn away now in case I spoil any of its twists. But Akiva Goldsman's adaptation is pretty faithful to the original plot, in which an American academic is thrown into a whirlwind search for the Holy Grail, which isn't actually a Grail at all, but something far more portentously mystical. The academic is Tom Hanks, glumly one-note in scraggy hair, and he's joined by a robotically stiff Tautou as a French police cryptologist (I suspect Brown thinks this means an expert on crypts), whose art-historian grandfather has been found dead in the Louvre. The old man, a bit of a wag even in extremis, has scrawled enigmatic clues to send Hanks and Tautou to the next stage of their search for truth: the Grail quest re-imagined as a fancy Easter egg hunt.

The seekers are aided by Ian McKellen's testy, tweedy Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing - an eccentric gentleman amateur so fabulously wealthy that he has a private plane for whizzing off to sniff around Templar churches when the mood takes him. In hot pursuit, meanwhile, are Jean Reno's copper and a glowering Paul Bettany as albino monk Silas, whose naked sessions of self-flagellation and chastisement by spiked garter are so gloatingly shot that you suspect the film is partly aimed at those people who use The Passion of the Christ on DVD as homoerotic soft porn.

A book whose stupidity follows you around the room, Brown's novel is an inept mess, and an insult to its target readers, middle-aged residents of Akron, Ohio who may be considering a first visit to Europe. Screenwriter Akiva Goldman, who possibly cheated by using joined-up writing, nevertheless maintains the dialogue's authentic Brownian fizz and snap ("The Vitruvian Man! It's one of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous sketches!").

The plot, about a plain chap suddenly whisked off on a breakneck caper, is basically North By Northwest with a rucksack-full of unreliable historical guidebooks. All that stuff about the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion and Leonardo's female symbolism makes for a whole mess of exposition to wade through, which explains why Hanks looks throughout like a man anxious to return to his hotel room for an interrupted crap.

Howard tries to liven up the talkiness with some visual frills. He has McKellen talk us through The Last Supper with a set of snazzy digital illustrations, so that the film starts feeling like a long, expensive Powerpoint presentation. Brief but insanely lavish historical reconstructions also burst into life on the screen, with thousands of knights besieging Jerusalem before your eyes in little Cecil B DeMille bites.

"I'm into something here that I cannot understand," Hanks says at one point; he could almost be airing his director's sentiments. Breathing any life into this nonsense is way beyond Ron Howard, one of Hollywood's more stolid journeymen. Howard can't handle either the Gothic creepiness or the Hitchcockian derring-do, and his lack of control over his material comes to a screeching head in a showdown between cops, Silas the monk, and Alfred Molina's Spanish cardinal - a scene that might almost have been slipped into the film by Pedro Almodóvar as a prank. Apart from such little sparks of absurdity, The Da Vinci Code is simply the dullest, most pedantic blockbuster of recent years. Never mind mortification of the flesh, see this and you'll know what it is to mortify the brain.

j.romney@independent.co.uk

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss