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'The Name of the Rose' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 26, 1986

The cloisters are the cryptic setting for this spooky movie adaptation of Umberto Eco's best-selling mystery, "The Name of the Rose." It's a richly appointed production that's hard to take seriously since the monks all look vaguely like Marty Feldman.

But no, those are gothic faces, says director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who gave us the Cro-Magnon romance "Quest for Fire." Here, his clerics, with their hunchbacks and googly eyes, seem modeled on the monastery gargoyles -- the sole, silent witnesses of a series of murders in an ominous Italian abbey in 1327.

Sean Connery, the perennial Bond, gets into a new habit as the Franciscan Sherlock, William of Baskerville, who investigates the whodunit with the aid of his teen-age prote'ge'. Newcomer Christian Slater plays Adso of Melk, an oft-dumbfounded Watson stand-in wowed by his mentor's deductions. A man of reason, Baskerville suspects a human culprit, but the superstitious monks believe the devil is at work.

The murders occur just as a crucial summit convenes. The poor Franciscans will debate the rich Dominicans to decide whether the church, then corrupt and divided, should accumulate wealth or celebrate poverty. The subterfuge relies on the intricacies of this power struggle, but viewers without some knowledge of the period will find the plot as uninvolving as a Latin mass.

Annaud and his international team do paint an intriguing portrait of the times, with its evil Inquisitors, starving peasants and licentious men of God. You can practically smell the candles guttering at the altar and the garbage raining down on the peasants from the charitable padres above.

Amid the leftovers, Adso catches the eye of a comely scullery wench (Valentina Vargas) who seduces him. (Of course, under her filthy robe, she's as hairless and shiny as virgin Tupperware.) Eventually, she is caught with a hunchback and a chicken and tried for witchcraft by the Inquisitor, played with wicked arrogance by F. Murray Abraham. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast are gibbering and slobbering, limping and hobbling through this intellectual slam at the Church.

Still there is nothing like the Inquisition to get you boiling mad. But that's about all that gets a reaction here as scores of characters -- victims and suspects -- flit in and out of this two-hour epic. The characters are wraiths, their motives as remote as the Virgin on her pedestal. And so we are never involved in the mystery. As always, Connery makes a decent detective, but he lacks the eccentric authority of a Basil Rathbone or Sidney Toler's mystical Charlie Chan. Forgive me father, but I don't care who dunit.

Copyright The Washington Post

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