Humphrey Bogart once said that, whenever he had to deliver a lot of boring exposition, he hoped the filmmakers would at least have the good sense to have a couple of camels copulating (Bogie used another term) in the background, so the audience would have something interesting to watch.
It would have taken a lot more than the liberal application of horny dromedaries to save Angels & Demons, but it certainly couldn't have hurt. While it's better than The Da Vinci Code—a backhanded compliment if ever there was one—it shares the same fatal flaw: It's based on something Dan Brown wrote. While both of Brown's Robert Langdon novels are enjoyable as entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking pulp potboilers with delusions of profundity, there's nothing even remotely cinematic about the tales of a symbologist scrambling to decipher esoteric clues while getting the stink-eye from the Vatican.
Angels & Demons finds Langdon (Tom Hanks) back in action, if not in the good graces of the Catholic Church. The timeline has been switched here so that Angels & Demons takes place after the events of The Da Vinci Code, so church officials are still pissed about Langdon's previous explorations. But he might be the only one who can help them. The pope has died, and the traditional conclave has been assembled to elect his replacement. But the four popular cardinals favored for the papacy have been kidnapped and marked for public execution, and an anti-matter bomb (don't ask) has been hidden somewhere within the Vatican walls. Langdon is called in to find the culprits, who are believed to be members of the legendary secret society known as the Illuminati. What follows is a frantically paced but repetitive, inane, and relentlessly dull scavenger hunt through Vatican City.
The filmmakers have taken great care to remove anything even vaguely controversial from the story. Gone is the book's Muslim assassin, and most of the musings about the contradictions between science and religion. Director Ron Howard and A-list scribes David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have also made the baffling decision to omit what few visceral thrills the novel offered. The result might be safer and less offensive, but it's also mind-numbingly dull and completely devoid of suspense and excitement.
Instead, we're subjected to scene after scene of Hanks, thankfully minus his Ivy League mullet, putting on his best "I'm thinking" face and delivering clumsy explanatory dialogue ("You didn't tell me they were the Preferiti—the cardinals most favored to become the next pope!"). He doesn't get much help from the supporting cast. Ewan McGregor seems remarkably out of place as the Pope's chamberlain, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna. An Italian in the book, the character has been made Irish to accommodate McGregor, who's Scottish, but whatever. Ayelet Zurer's character, the particle physicist who harvested the anti-matter that's got everyone's panties in a wad, has been reduced to little more than window dressing. The only standout is Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino as Inspector Olivetti, the Carabinieri policeman who instigates Langdon's involvement.
Those who have blindly condemned the flick as anti-Catholic would do well to actually watch it, particularly the final scenes, before they make such a harsh judgment. The filmmakers put forth a concerted effort to make nice with anyone who might have been offended by the religious ruminations of The Da Vinci Code, and to put a positive spin on its depiction of the political intricacies of the Catholic Church. It's too bad they make no effort to placate those of us who were offended by The Da Vinci Code simply because it sucked. So the narrow-minded will hate Angels & Demons for what it isn't, while the more enlightened among us will hate it for what it is: boring, silly, and pretentious.
It's also a relentlessly grisly movie, in spite of its PG-13 rating. We get disembodied eyeballs, rats chewing on a corpse's face, a faceful of spurting blood, an old man tortured and burned alive, self-immolation and, most gratuitous of all, Tom Hanks in a Speedo. Eugh.
I have nothing against Howard or Hanks. I actually rather like them both; I just don't think they should be allowed within 500 yards of one another, ever, for any reason. But the audience abuse will continue; Columbia has already green-lighted the adaptation of Brown's soon-to-be-released The Lost Symbol, the inevitable third installment in the Robert Langdon series.
If you absolutely must subject yourself to Angels & Demons, at least do yourself a favor and say "Yes" when the surly teenager at the concessions counter offers to upsize your soda. You'll need the extra sugar and caffeine to keep you conscious, and don't sweat the restroom trips. You won't miss anything.