Highway to hell

Ron Howard’s latest mainstream seat-warmer heads straight south

May 20, 2009 at 12:00 am

If God's in the details, then the devil must lurk in marginalia, as needless trivia is the coin of the realm in this plodding muddle of a thriller. As a follow-up to the megagrossing The Da Vinci Code, Angels is more kinetic and streamlined but just as inane and turgid. Adapted from one of Dan Brown's disposable pulps, the film is too silly to be truly heretical, but it's something of a miracle, dragging dogma, papal politics, particle physics and major-league Hollywood talent down into the muck simultaneously.

Tom Hanks is back as Harvard professor Robert Langdon, master of arcane religious factoids and the latest in the weird trend of academic nerds as matinee heroes. Like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, and even Indiana Jones in his last turd, Langdon is constantly stopping the action to explain things, using every engraved altar, ornate cross or marble archway as an excuse to prattle on about some forgotten piece of medieval church history, often smack in the middle of a chase scene. Actually, the film is one long chase scene — through cathedrals and catacombs. At least this time Hanks sports a more aerodynamic haircut than his goofy mad scientist look in Da Vinci.

The cause of all this breathless exposition is a dastardly plot by the Roman Catholic Church's ancient enemies, a shadowy threat known as the Illuminati, a sect of devoted knowledge-seekers who've kidnapped the four leading candidates, just as the College of Cardinals convenes to elect a new pope. They've also managed to hijack a tube full of volatile anti-matter from the Hadron Supercollider (don't ask), which threatens to blow the Vatican clean off the map if not found in time.

Intent on tossing aside the good will he earned from Frost/Nixon, director Ron Howard returns to his roots as a big-budget mainstream hack; while he keeps things moving fairly briskly, he can't seem to sustain excitement.

One problem is that the bad guys keep dispensing Hanks' Vatican gendarme sidekicks so quickly we barely remember who they are, which simply makes him squint and start rambling some more nonsense about the time in 1638 when the pope ate a bad potato and got gassy. About the only credible thing here is Scotsman Ewan McGregor's passable Irish lilt, which he manages to maintain the whole time, which is more than can be said about the film's level of suspense.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].