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May 17-23, 2006

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'The Da Vinci Code'

Code Warriors: Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks track down 'The Da Vinci Code.'

Apocrypha Now

'The Da Vinci Code': Ron Howard asks: Will you accept this rose? Love that McKellen, solving riddles in the dark.

By Richard von Busack

ONE OF the first lines in The Da Vinci Code is "Poor Poseidon," and you don't have to be a "professor of religious symbology" like Tom Hanks' Robert Langdon to decode that dig. Beefy as it hopes itself to be, The Da Vinci Code is actually sort of a little movie—more exposition than explosion.

As a Paris police cryptologist, Audrey Tautou does her pixie routine. She and a passive, confused-looking Hanks are accused of murder and chased from Paris to London by a liverish Javert (Jean Reno, once again looking as if he were molded out of discount pate). Also on their trail is an unstoppable self-flagellating hit man (Paul Bettany) working for Opus Dei.

Our heroes search for cryptic clues amid one plasticine-looking CG cathedral after another. Finally, they do a film about the Council of Nicea, and here it is: wan ghosts clothed in shiny, candy-wrapper-colored silks shaking their crosiers at one another.

The Da Vinci Code needs all the iconoclasm it can muster. It's solemn and murky, and, except for a glance into the rustling bushes of the Bois de Boulogne, it has no sex to speak of. The only one who gets his clothes off is dead and 60. Director Ron Howard handles the Goliath-size bestseller with the tentativeness of a man smelling the tar and feathers waiting for him if he drops one breathtaking episode.

Only a real actor could bring this $10 jawbreaker to life, and that actor is Ian McKellen. His Teabing, an expert on Grail lore, enters on a pair of canes, weaving like a broken-backed spider. He settles in over a tea table and starts dropping some daring comments about the Scarlet Lady (Robert Graves claims that the Catholic Church had that nickname in 1920s London).

As a connoisseur of heresy in general, more than novelist Dan Brown's authoritatively pronounced inaccuracies in particular, I relished Teabing's insistence on Jesus' humanity. He stops the show with a line about Jesus not being the literal son of God—"not even his nephew twice removed!"

McKellen refreshes our memories of organized religion's misdeeds. When he pronounces the name of the witch finder's manual Mallus Malefactorum, it almost rattles the windows of Vincent Price's crypt.

And again the smell of spice penetrates an extremely long and dank movie. Once again Satan (or his advocate) has all the best lines, though Hanks tries to shout over such blasphemy. Then again, Hanks acts throughout this movie as if he had a cilice around his throat.

The film's heralding of a Shesus as a successor to Jesus seems fair enough. However: a royal bloodline for Western civilization's greatest outcast—the stone that the builders rejected—is lily gilding. It's worse than those snobs who claim Shakespeare just had to be a blueblood. One could note the thousands of Muslims who can trace their family to the Prophet and ask whether those pedigrees have made their faith more democratic or less so.

Finally, when arguing that the Christianity offered women nothing but blood, sweat and tears, Dan Brown does what Mel Gibson did, or nearly so, in his Passion. That is, he ignores the female principle the Catholic Church honors in Paris, as well as everywhere else there's a Notre Dame. What about the Virgin Mary? What is she, chopped liver like Jean Reno?

Movie TimesThe Da Vinci Code (PG-13; 149 min.), directed by Ron Howard, written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Drown, photographed by Salvatore Totino and starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen, plays everywhere.

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