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6 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Angels & Demons
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Insert "Pope Streebeck" Joke Here"
1 stars

The early word on “Angels & Demons,” the eagerly awaited (by some) follow-up to the enormously successful “The Da Vinci Code,” was that it was a faster-paced and more entertaining film than its predecessor. As someone who thought that “The Da Vinci Code” was one of the dumbest and draggiest movies of recent years--an utterly wooden thrill-free thriller that was equal parts lugubrious and ludicrous--this news was encouraging and while I can’t say that I settled into my seat with anything resembling genuine enthusiasm for what I was about to see, I was at least holding out some hope that this meant that it might work at least on the level of a mindless potboiler adventure that at least had the good grace to recognize its utter preposterousness and have some fun with it. The good news is that “Angels & Demons” does move a little quicker than its predecessor in the pacing department. The bad news is that it doesn’t move that much faster and it still grinds along slowly enough for viewers to realize that not only is it just as stupid, badly written, dully acted and theologically incoherent as “The Da Vinci Code,” it may actually be a worse film, an achievement that I for one would have once considered to be as implausible and ridiculous as any of the events depicted on the screen.

Based on another one of the insanely popular novels (for lack of a better word) from author Dan Brown (which actually preceded “The Da Vinci Code” for those of you who actually care), “Angels & Demons” kicks off just after the passing of the current pope and the college of cardinals about to begin the conclave designed to elect a new pontiff. However, things are made a little more complicated when the four cardinals considered to be the front-runners for the position are kidnapped and the Church receives words that one will be killed each hour, each at a different church that has something to do with one of the four elements (the identities of which the screenplay thoughtfully reminds us of approximately 937 separate times throughout the film) leading up to a bombing designed to destroy the Vatican itself via the use of an antimatter device recently stolen from a lab in Switzerland. If that weren’t bad enough, it appears that the group responsible for all of this is the Illuminati, an ancient secret society of intellectual types that was violently eradicated a few hundred years earlier by the Church for daring to regard scientific fact as being more important than religious faith and which seems to have been revived in order to settle the score once and for all. Clearly, there is only one man out there capable of stopping all of this and that man, of course, is Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). Sure, you might think that the Catholic Church would have second thoughts about placing its potential survival in the hands of the same guy whose revelations threatened to bring it to its knees a few years earlier but as this movie demonstrates, Catholics are wonderfully forgiven, open to new and progressive ideas and even possess a certain amount of irony. Apparently, even the bad guys agree that he is the only man for the job because they thoughtfully hold off on their program of cardinal killing in order to give Langdon enough time to fly from the U.S. to Vatican City and acclimate himself against the rigors of jet lag.

Upon arriving, Langdon checks out the few bits of information about the case on hand and instantly discovers a number of clues that lead him to believe that if he can find and follow a long-hidden path hinted at in a rare pamphlet written by Galileo himself, he will be able to locate the missing cardinals and the bomb. Along with hot Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), who helped design the antimatter device and who is apparently the only person capable of. . .um, changing its battery when it is found in order to keep it from going off, Langdon sets off on his quest and the movie more or less falls into the following pattern. He will spend his time deducing clues that apparently no one else--not even the people working in the Vatican archives who are theoretically supposed to know this stuff like the back of their hands--can figure out, comes up with the identity and location of the next church with only a few minutes to spare arrives to find the dead or dying body of the latest victim and another arcane clue hinting towards the next location. Among those alternately helping and hindering Langdon and Vetra on their quest is Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), the grumpy head of the Swiss Guard, the military force charged with protecting the pope Then there is Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the man presiding over the conclave who seems quietly pleased when he is informed that, in light of the absence of the other candidates for the papacy, he may be the only one capable of receiving a majority vote. Finally, there is Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the man who used to be the former’s pope’s most trusted and progressive aide and who, in his position as a sort of papal pro tempore, insists that the Church should tear down its veil of secrecy, announce what is going on to the world and evacuate the area before the explosion. I wouldn’t dream of telling you which of these characters are ham-fisted red herrings and which one is behind everything. However, I will note that the very second that the person walked onto the screen, I not only knew who the guilty party was but more or less why they were doing it--not bad when you consider that my status as an extremely lapsed Lutheran might have handicapped me to some degree regarding this kind of story. Oh yeah, there is also a mysterious assassin wandering around in the background who kills practically everyone who gets in his way but who inexplicably lets Langdon live even when he could easily be rid of him several times over--I won’t tell you his rationale behind his inexplicably merciful behavior because it is so ridiculous that if I did, you would most likely assume that I was flat-out lying to you.

With its combination of an incoherently screwy plot, one-dimensional characters, dialogue that sounds as if it has been put through an imperfect Babelfish translation program at least three times before being put in the mouths of the actors, characters frantically trying to piece together a number of seemingly inexplicable clues, a generally cynical depiction of ordinarily revered institutions and a series of gruesome and thematically-linked murders (including one in which much damages is rendered upon someone’s eyeball), “Angels & Demons” resembles nothing so much on the surface as it does a typical out from legendary Italian horror director Dario Argento--all it really needs to complete the effect is a razor-wielding monkey, half-naked witches and the always-welcome presence of daughter Asia. (Then again, is there a movie out there that couldn’t be improved with such addition--they might have even helped the likes of “Star Trek” and “Wolverine.”) If Argento had somehow been hired to direct the film, I can pretty much guarantee that it would have differed in two key respects in ways that could have only been to its benefit. For starters, he would have instantly recognized the ludicrousness of the story cooked up by Brown and adapted by screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman and treated it as such by blatantly utilizing it only as a method of getting from one set-piece to another. Then, he would have staged said set-pieces in such an overwhelmingly stylish and baroque manner that audiences would have too blown away by them to notice how dopey the plot really was. Alas, returning director Ron Howard may be many things but he is no Dario Argento--at this point, he is hardly the Ron Howard who used to give us such crackerjack entertainments as “Night Shift,” “Splash” and “Apollo 13”--and that becomes painfully evident right from the start. For one thing, he makes the same basic error in approaching the material here that he did with “The Da Vinci Code”--he takes material that is little more than silly pulp with a few footnotes thrown in to make it seem smarter and treats it with such overwhelming solemnity that it practically calcifies on the screen before your eyes in ways that suck out all of the fun that might have been generated had it been in the hands of someone looser and more willing to have fun with it. And while Howard has made the wise decision to replace the excessive talkiness of the first film with a more action-oriented approach this time around, he just doesn’t have the visual storytelling skillset to pull it off. There are chases, shoot-outs, grisly murders and hairbreadth escapes aplenty but Howard has no idea of how to pull them off in a distinctive manner and as a result, they never come to life for an instant. (At times, it feels less like a film and more like a compilation of highlight reels submitted by people aiming for the job of directing the second unit.)

Although the films of Ron Howard of late have grown increasingly difficult to sit through (with the exception of last year’s “Frost/Nixon”), the thing that has kept him from sinking into complete uselessness has been his undeniable facility for getting engaging performances from his actors, as he demonstrated once again with last year‘s “Frost/Nixon.” Even “The Da Vinci Code” had that cheerfully cheesy supporting turn from Ian McKellan--it was blatant scenery chewing, to be sure, but it was undeniably entertaining and provided that film with the closest thing that it had to an actual pulse. And yet, all of the actors here come across as virtually indistinguishable from the statues that they frequently utilize to guide them along--stiff, solemn and sexless. Tom Hanks does give off a couple of brief flashes of his considerable charm but for the most part, he seems almost virtually paralyzed by the fact while the character of Robert Langdon has fattened his bank account considerably, it is easily the least interesting role that he has played since the days of appearing in such junk as “Volunteers” and “The Man with One Red Shoe”--as a colleague of mine pointed out as the end credits began to roll, if the Langdon character had never actually arrived in Rome to save the day, the story would have unfolded no differently than if he had. (On the other hand, he seems as relieved as we are that he has been allowed to ditch the infamously goofy hairstyle that he sported the last time around.) Playing his attractive-but-unthreatening sidekick, Ayelet Zurer is lovely to look but has so little to do--even for someone playing a person whose central mission is to change a battery--that it eventually feels as if her main job is to act as the film’s beard. As the assorted Vatican members, you could hardly ask for three more intriguing and interesting actors than McGregor, Skarsgard and Mueller-Stahl but, having asked for them, Howard wastes their talents with roles so artlessly created that it seems almost an insult to ask them to waste their gifts on trying to make something out of them. And for those of you keeping score of such things, Howard has once again squelched my dream of casting brother Clint, who appears in virtually all of his films in a small supporting role, as the pope (although there is one shot of the pontiff that is arguably indistinguishable from Clint. . .but I kid Clint).

As some of you will recall, the release of “The Da Vinci Code” was marked with some controversy because some people felt that its central mystery bordered on blasphemy--much of this talk died down once the film came out and everyone discovered that it was too dull to inflame any but the most overly sensitive viewers. Now with the release of “Angels & Demons,” there has been some speculation as to whether it will incur the wrath of the Catholic Church as well. Considering the fact that the film is as unsound and questionable from a theological perspective as it is from a dramatic one, my guess is that it will not inspire the same level of controversy--for what it is worth, the nun that was invited to the press screening I attended stayed all the way through without needing to offer any prayers for our collective souls. In other words, you most likely won’t go to Hell for watching this film, though you will no doubt feel as if you are in Hell while watching it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17550&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/15/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell better than the first film 3 stars
12/17/10 mr.mike Much improved sequel with faster pace and Hanks more comfortable in the role. 4 stars
4/28/10 TreeTiger Oh yes, this is truly utter crap... 1 stars
11/30/09 action movie fan fairly interesting but too long and ultimatley dissappointing 3 stars
11/27/09 Monday Morning Totally overbaked. But what does Dan Brown care? He got paid. 2 stars
11/24/09 longdon Utter Crap - an Indictment to the continuing fall of western society 1 stars
10/29/09 millersxing Full of crappy exposition in front of some statue or in a car fighting traffic. Forgettable 2 stars
9/04/09 rob fuking absurd film, worst shit i seen since 'happy days' 1 stars
7/03/09 Kermit Crissey not as good as the book 3 stars
5/21/09 Ole Man Bourbon I want to know how an expert symbologist in Roman and Italian hist can't read Latin nor It. 2 stars
5/18/09 Aesop Makes Battlefield Earth look like Shakespeare.Hanks and Howard continue career suicide pact 1 stars
5/18/09 mark Much better than DaVinci. Well shot. Worth a look. 4 stars
5/17/09 Aaron A riveting thriller that had my attention from beginning to end. 5 stars
5/16/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Shape-shifting god Amen's obelisk still in vagina circle of St. Peters Square. Needs nuking 1 stars
5/15/09 mick Hardcore Miss Marple starring tom hanks, boring. 2 stars
5/15/09 james obrien just seen it better than the firsst 5 stars
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  15-May-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

Directed by
  Ron Howard

Written by
  Akiva Goldsman

  Tom Hanks
  Ayelet Zurer
  Ewan McGregor

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