'Da Vinci Code' Misses the Mark for Critics
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; 8:58 AM
CANNES, France -- "The Da Vinci Code" drew lukewarm praise, shrugs of indifference, some jeering laughter and a few derisive jabs Tuesday from arguably the world's toughest movie crowd: critics at the Cannes Film Festival.
The year's most anticipated movie, "The Da Vinci Code" was a generally faithful adaptation of Dan Brown's monster best seller, spinning a murder thriller that stems from a cover-up of secrets about Christianity's roots.
While readers worldwide devoured the novel, reaction from Cannes critics ranged from mild endorsement of its potboiler suspense to groans of ridicule over its heavy melodrama.
"It's a movie about whether the greatest story ever told is true or not, and it's not the greatest movie ever screened, is it?" said Baz Bamigboye, a film columnist for London's Daily Mail. "As a thriller, well," he continued, shrugging.
"Maybe the next day I'll forget about it," said Igor Soukmanov of Unistar Radio in Belarus. "But today for two hours it was good entertainment. ... As a Hollywood movie, it's a very nice picture."
Critics got their first look at "The Da Vinci Code" a day before its world premiere at Cannes on Wednesday, when it also debuts at theaters in France and some other countries. The film opens worldwide over the following two days, including the United States on Friday.
Directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou as strangers hurled together on a frantic quest for the Holy Grail after a series of murders is committed.
The filmmakers add some twists and variations here and there, but the general thrust of the novel remains intact, including its theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, which has prompted denouncements from many Christians.
The Cannes audience clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to two and a half hours and spun a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations.
"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical. "Ron Howard makes handsome films. He doesn't make bad ones, but he doesn't make great ones."
One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.
Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.
Critics singled out co-star Ian McKellen, playing a wry Grail enthusiast who joins the search, as the movie's highlight, injecting hearty humor and delivering the most nuanced performance. Paul Bettany added a seething mix of tragic pathos and destructive zealousness as a monk assassin who carries out the slayings.
Bamigboye said all the actors were solid, but enthusiastically added, "I've got to tell you, Ian McKellen steals it. He slices all the crap away."