The Da Vinci Code

Forget the on the pseudo-scholarly Holy Grail lectures and church-riling biblical theories — bring on the killer albino monks, cat-and-mouse chases, cutthroat clerics, secret societies and ritualistic sex! Now, that's a page-turner.

Dan Brown's bestseller-that-won't-quit has kept readers engaged for so long because it's a juicy little pop thriller seductively packaged with a (very) thin veneer of intellectualism, mythology, archaeology and religious symbolism. Plus, religious controversy is always reliable for a hefty boost in sales.

Somehow, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind) forgot the juicy thriller part in their film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, meaning all the controversy and the buildup was all for a snore.

Nonetheless, The Da Vinci Code will make untold millions simply because the book's best-seller bandwagon is still rolling. Readers will want to see the wreck for themselves, and those who haven't read it will want to see what all the freakin' fuss is over.

It follows scholar Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and pretty young intelligence agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou of Amélie) on a chase across England and France to solve a murder mystery, racing against a ruthless conservative Catholic group set on destroying evidence that could shatter the foundations of their religion. The two are thrown together after Sophie's grandfather is gunned down by an albino in the Louvre, and manages to leave a few clues before he expires.

The best mystery of Howard's film adaptation is this: What chemicals are responsible for the slightly modernized hockey-hair that Hanks sports? It's no wig, Hanks has claimed, but has anyone seen anything like it since a 1980 Red Wings team photo?

Granted, Howard and screenwriter Goldsman would rather we debate Brown's theories — that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and their spawn still populate the earth, that it's Magdalene, not John, who sits next to Jesus in Da Vinci's "Last Supper," and that Jesus meant for this woman, the real Holy Grail, and not his apostles, to run the big show.

But if they really wanted a heated debate, the filmmakers should have offered a more provocative film. Brown presented the theories as if they'd rock your perception of the past 2,000 years, and his Langdon seems enthralled and fascinated with the Grail lore and the entire chase; if skeptical, he's still rapt with the mystery.

But in the movie version (likely a token olive branch to appease religious critics), Hanks' Langdon isn't buying any of it. He scoffs, frowns and pouts through expositions on the beliefs of the Priory of Scion, a secret society charged with protecting the Grail. He's so moany throughout the big hunt it makes you wonder why the hell we have to come along too.

The other failing comes with Howard's shoddy delivery of the backstory — and there's a ton of it needed. Any time a character speaks about anything from the past, we get crappy History Channel visual aids in the form of grainy, washed-out and digitized flashbacks that re-enact scenes of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, Jerusalem or even a young Langdon's childhood accident. It seems a pretty unsophisticated way to deliver a complex plot, but that's what happens when you can't rely on the action or dialogue to keep the film moving.

With Langdon disengaged and backtracking every few minutes, we lose the thrill of the chase, the excitement of the hunt. A crazed albino killer is on the loose, people, and all we get is bad hockey hair and a history lecture? Someone hit the snooze button.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].