Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Angels & Demons

Adequate & Dull

You just can’t keep a good symbologist down, apparently, no matter how hard the religious ne’er-do-wells try.  Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back to decoding religious symbiology in an attempt to save the world, or some aspect of it at the very least.  This time he is helping the Vatican decode a plot hatched by the Illuminati against the Catholic Church (timed with the Pope’s death) as retribution for the church’s mistreatment of the secret society centuries ago.  Now they are wreaking their revenge by threatening the lives of four cardinals, and ultimately, blowing up Vatican City with a nifty little stolen gadget called anti-matter and it’s up to Langdon to find and solve the clues in a four hour time span. 

With all due respect to the millions of people who read this book and went nuts for it, there was absolutely nothing about this story that I found interesting.  Though I actually really enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code (and this is the first and last time I’ll compare the two novels/movies) and had high hopes for this book, when I tried reading Angels and Demons I couldn’t get through the first 30 pages without giving up because I found it to be incredibly boring.  I can barely even keep my eyes open reading the synopsis I wrote about the movie and that’s my own writing.  I didn’t buy that they were working urgently (it seemed like an hour was more like a “movie hour” of about an hour and a half at least) and found the developments and “twists” so obvious that I entertained myself by pretending I was as smart as Langdon and could figure out the riddles just because the camera pointed out the answer to me.  (“Of course it’s under the floor – one of the three dozen angels’ arrows is pointing right at the spot!”)   And speaking of predictability, I was once again intellectually offended by a filmmaker forcing several possible villains down my throat in a bid to be suspenseful.  Honestly, good writing and direction is all you need, not five people giving furtive sidelong glances like the shifty-eyed dog on The Simpsons.

The acting in the film was decent, though certainly not inspired. Tom Hanks always seems very natural in his films, and I was pleased to see one of my favorite contemporary actors, the under-valued Stellan Skarsgard in the film.  Once again, however, the female lead (Ayelet Zurer) was completely ineffectual and Ewan McGregor simply chewed scenery without a lot of panache.  I also don’t know when Armin Mueller-Stahl become completely unintelligible, but I couldn’t tell you most of what he said in the film because I couldn’t understand a word he said.

Having completely bagged on the story and an elderly German actor,  I do now have to admit that the movie was actually somewhat easy to watch, if only in an “I don’t feel like I’m completely wasting my time” way, the same way I will watch a Lifetime Movie Network flick to fall asleep.  Realizing this sounds fairly negative, one has to look at Ron Howard’s films in general:  They are always easy to watch but not challenging, and adequate but not exciting.  Unless someone is really interested in a subject matter that he covers, I think that his films tend to be the culinary equivalent of a Little Debbie snack cake.  They are good when you’re hungry, but other things are so much better; yet, you know what you’re getting into when you take a bite.  I really enjoyed Frost/Nixon after seeing it, but I’m also a history nerd, and the interesting thing about that movie was after seeing all of the other Best Picture nominees of last year, it quickly fell to a definite last place in the running for me.  On a definite positive note, however, I can say that, whether the locations were simulated or not, as an art and architecture lover I thought the location shots were great, and my experience was further enhanced by my parents leaning over occasionally to whisper, “We were there!”

I can’t completely pan Angels and Demons, but I also don’t have a lot of good things to say about it either.  The best thing I can truly say about it is that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which is sometimes all you can ask for in a summer popcorn flick.



Coming soon:  www.thecinemaphile.com

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