'Angels & Demons'

Director Ron Howard fails to build suspense

On The Aisle

By Tony Macklin

“Angels & Demons” performs a miracle. It makes two hours seem like four hours. It should thrill, but director Ron Howard’s suspense has no edge or vitality. Most of it is running, panting, doggy-paddling and sinking. Maps, keys, door and a tea bag abound. Wit and keenness don’t.
Howard has taken his second swipe (and misfire) at a Dan Brown novel. He should have learned from his last submerging in “The Da Vinci Code.” There’s a difference between baptism and drowning. Howard is the wrong director for “Angels & Demons,” which needs someone like Alfred Hitchcock. The novel is bursting with excitement; the movie just bursts. If “Angels and Demons” reminds one of any Hitchcock film, it’s “Topaz.”
In “Angels & Demons,” symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned by the Vatican after the death of the Pope. Four cardinals, the leading candidates to become the next pope, have been kidnapped. Vatican City is threatened with obliteration by a device of anti-matter that has been stolen by the Illuminati, an ancient secret brotherhood that hates the Catholic Church.
Langdon, Italian physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) and the police try to save the cardinals, one of whom is to die each hour. When all are dead, the device will explode.
Langdon and Vetra try to fathom clues from catacombs, crypts, churches, sculptures and bas-relief that will lead to the Path of Illumination and the prevention of the impending cataclysm.
Veteran screenwriters David Koepp and Akira Goldman soften the plot and weaken the main female character. They also cut some of Brown’s pithy lines about religion. Obviously they cut the geeks’ heady reaction to religious assassination. Their script truncates and dulls the novel’s conflict between religion and science.
Hanks is good, as always, but his character is little more than a pawn. He simply moves forward in increments. Hanks is more of a straightforward checkers player. As Langdon, he affects a serious, earnest expression and coasts.
The nameless assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) pales in comparison with the villain (Paul Bettany) in “The Da Vinci Code.” When you pale next to an albino, you’re in trouble.
“Angels & Demons” looks good. The cinematography by Salvatore Totini is evocative and his use of light is impressive. The locations of Vatican City and Rome offer some compelling ambience.
The whole movie is capable, but without an ounce of inspiration. It’s safe, commercial moviemaking, which is Howard’s forte. Like a lot of religion itself, “Angels & Demons” should be so much more than it is. It’s not the church’s Sign of the Cross. It’s the box office’s Sign of the Gross.

Categories: Entertainment