Movie News & Reviews

Hanks, Howard bring salvation to 'Angels & Demons'

There are some things that, through the virtue of sheer awesomeness,become virtually immune to criticism.

-- Times, theaters, trailer.

-- Read Mr. Movie's review.

For instance, if the first moon base is just a log cabin where you payto get beaten by moon-clubs in the minute before you suffocate todeath, it's still a damn base on the moon. Anyone who says differentis a jerk. Also pizza: basically perfect. You couldn't ruin it if youmarinated it in a fish tank overnight and then cooked it with a fatman's hot breath.

That turned out grosser than I thought. Still, it's a valid principle,and it can apply to movies too. Vin Diesel doesn't have to listen toyour naysaying, because he's made out of condensed victory. The DayAfter Tomorrow makes me want to cry for liking it, but what canyou do, it's got Earth being taken over by wolves and snowtornadoes. The new Dan Brown adaptation Angels & Demons isn'tgood, it's simply awesome.

In Vatican City, the Pope has died. Before a new one can be elected,the four cardinals most qualified to replace him are kidnapped by theIlluminati, the legendary secret enemy of the church.

With only hours to save its brothers, the Vatican flies in smart guyexpert Tom Hanks to help locate the cardinals before they're killed.He's teamed with Ayelet Zurer, a physicist with bad news: her lab'sbeen robbed of a huge chunk of antimatter. If they can't locate it bymidnight, the Illuminati will use it to nuke Vatican City off the faceof the Earth.

That ain't much time to work with, but when all Hanks needs to starttracking down the bad dudes' hidden temple is five minutes with an oldpamphlet, time takes on a different meaning. He's like Superman, butwith the ability to read. Give him a week with a dictionary and anEsperanto phrasebook and he will probably evolve us all into beings ofpure light who also smell like fresh mint.

That pell-mell pace is Angels & Demons' biggest strength — whenyou're hurtling along like a rabbit that's running on the back ofanother rabbit, it's hard to notice the many things that aren't sogreat. Despite the speed, director Ron Howard is skilled enough tokeep all those plot threads and pseudo-historical minutiae fromgetting all tangled up.

Unfortunately, the backstory about the Catholic Church and theirbitter Illuminati rivals just isn't that interesting. I'm sure it wasa critical piece of the Dan Brown novel, but his books are thick as aham hock (and not from one of those skinny pigs, either, but a reallyfat one). Chopped down and heavily simplified to fit the screen, theintricate history that drew so many readers may as well be the storyof Go Team Good Guys vs. Angry Chumlord Hate-Squad X.

Hanks' always-welcome presence goes a long way. There's somethingdeeply hilarious about a scholar hauling ass around Rome just in timeto watch some oldie in weird robes get totally murdered, thenrepeating with identical results. Just about anyone else would lookwildly incompetent doing this. For Hanks, you just kinda know it can'tbe his fault.

Hanks' nonstop chase eventually blows up into an exhausting series ofclimaxes that reach for a meaning it doesn't earn in the slightest.Yet Howard's direction is too competent to ever get boring or outrightdumb — and you know what, OK, all that insane scheming and thwartingis too hypercrazy to deny. Angels & Demons works despiteitself, a big silly mess held up by deft hands.

Grade: C+