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Thursday, May 14, 2009

'Angels & Demons' does not translate to screen

By Claudia Puig - May 14, 2009

Apparently, the quality of movies based on Dan Brown's best sellers correlates directly with the style of Tom Hanks' hair.

Angels & Demons is better, though not by much, than 2006's Da Vinci Code. The story, however, is less interesting and even more far-fetched.

Hanks is likable and credible reprising his role as irreverent, code-cracking Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. But director Ron Howard focuses more on spec- tacular shots, particularly during a climactic scene involving a helicopter ride above the Vatican, than on tension and excitement. The story, with its arcane riddles and preposterous twists, does not translate well to the screen. It fails as an action thriller, relying on wordy exposition. And the array of clues and riddles unearthed by Langdon are as improbable as the notion of a secret cult of vengeful scientists.

Still, for an academic, Langdon has some impressive action-hero moves. And he needs them: He's up against a one-man terrorist brigade. The ubiquitous bad guy is an assassin, acting in the name of the "Illuminati," an ancient brotherhood of scientists. It's hard to get too worked up about villains made up of astronomers, philosophers and physicists.The clock is ticking as a bomb is aimed at St. Peter's in Rome. Langdon joins forces with an Italian scientist alliteratively named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). The two spend too much time poring over ancient texts to make pulses race. It's a meeting of minds, not lips.

The movie posits that Langdon, a man of science, may have a shred of faith he doesn't acknowledge. But it deals heavy-handedly with the faith vs. science debate. The dialogue tries to be portentous, but it reeks of cliché. "We're in God's hands now," intones papal representative Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor). Meanwhile, Langdon lectures and pontificates, even as he races to unearth a bomb.

Angels doesn't know when to quit: Just when you think it's over, it continues, like the franchise based on Brown's books.


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