Only Meg Ryan could have helped save this film

‘The Da Vinci Code’s’ promising cast can’t help save its slow, erroneous plot

Don M. Burrows

It’s not merely the conjectures and historical inaccuracies that make Ron Howard’s “The Da Vinci Code,” based on Dan Brown’s bad book by the same name, a bad film.

“The Da Vinci Code,” starring notable talents like Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen, and directed by the equally adept Howard, somehow manages to be a grueling nonstarter from beginning to end.

Good mystery sells itself through the slow release of information, and this movie takes that to wit’s end. When Hanks cuts himself with a razor to bring about yet another revelatory moment – two hours and 20 minutes into the film – one is tempted to trade it in for an early peek at the credits.

And then there are, of course, the historical canards that try to push the movie forward, each relying on audience ignorance: Constantine determined the books of the Bible in 325 (actually, it was an assembly of church leaders in 391); Mary Magdalene wrote a Gospel (which scholars date 200 years after her time); and somehow Da Vinci’s 15th century “The Last Supper” is used to prove the relationship between Mary and Jesus some 1,500 years prior.

Howard also goes out of his way to soften the parts of the plot many Christians might find sacrilegious. Thus we have a prolonged “scholarly” debate between Hanks and McKellen that seems forced and awkward, lest Brown’s pseudohistory be taken at face value. And the predictable end of the movie features a trite theological discussion attempting to soften the accusation that Christianity is based on lies.

But mostly “The Da Vinci Code” is nothing more than a disappointment, given the players involved.

Audrey Tautou, the French actress whose performances in “Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement” have charmed audiences worldwide, barely connects in her role as a French agent. When she echoes Hanks’ historical narratives (my favorite is her astonishment at a historical event taking place on Friday the 13th), and continually addresses him as “professor,” it’s enough to want to ban her from ever speaking English on film again.

Hanks, meanwhile, plays a combination of every character he’s portrayed since “Joe Versus the Volcano,” the last time his hair was so awkwardly long. He can’t even convince us in his role as a “religious symbologist” – an academic discipline that doesn’t actually exist.

Were these performances a bit better, Howard’s film might not have felt like a 150-minute punishment for making such a terrible book so popular. But even in its most fast-paced and supposedly intriguing moments, “The Da Vinci Code” is absurdity.

Admittedly, commercial movies don’t have to be arthouse films, but at least they should be entertaining. “The Da Vinci Code” most certainly is not.