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The Brown Code

Opie takes on Opus Dei with fair Da Vinci adaptation


OK, here's a hypothetical for you: Let's say that a studio takes a shot at the summer blockbuster sweepstakes by buying rights to one of the most popular novels in recent years. Then, the studio hires a passel of Oscar winners—director, screenwriter, lead actor—to make it work. They mix it up with millions and millions of dollars, commit it to film, let settle and serve. Voila, you have the film version of The Da Vinci Code. The question now is, does it work?

Well, sort of. At a running time of about two-and-a-half hours, there's little doubt that director Ron Howard has given the multitudes a faithful adaptation; damn near all of it's here, though there are a few minor changes. And it looks great because Howard is one of Hollywood's finest craftsmen. But in being so true to the book, the film keeps most of the novel's flaws, including large blocks of exposition and one-note characters. On film, at least, the flashbacks to various historical events look interesting, so that's not so bad.

On the character score, unfortunately, there's little joy in sight. As written, the central characters of Professor Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu are traits more than people. Even their histories are shown only in context of their professions, and so they rarely seem like anything other than avatars, pushed here and there by the plot. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou do what they can in the central roles, but for large stretches of time, they get no help from the script. Jean Reno, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina (as an overbearing Opus Dei bishop) are similarly wasted.

However, the film has one saving grace, and that is Sir Ian McKellen. Playing Sir Leigh Teabing, an obsessive Grail historian with secrets all his own, McKellen cranks up the wattage whenever he appears, and gives Hanks, Tautou and the other actors something more interesting to work with than Akiva Goldsman's pedestrian script. When McKellen and Hanks begin arguing about third century Roman history in one of their first scenes together, the energy of Dan Brown's novel makes its first real appearance, and the story begins to pick up. Sadly, McKellen's screen time doesn't start until about 40 minutes in and he exits before the movie sputters to a stop, so his sly portrayal of Teabing can only do so much. Plus, I kept waiting for him to go all Magneto on somebody.

Overall, however, McKellen's scene-stealing and the high-quality professionalism of everybody involved helps make The Da Vinci Code something more than the turgid dullfest many mainstream critics make it out to be.

Pulse-pounding it's not, but The Da Vinci Code is solid summer entertainment all the same.