MOVIE: In Review
‘Da Vinci’ underwhelms at the theater
In the weeks leading up to the anticipated release of “The Da Vinci Code,” the movie adaptation of the worldwide bestselling novel by Dan Brown, the media and religious groups were all went crazy with debate. Accusations of sacrilege, misleading facts and unfair treatment to religious sects were most discussed.
But apparently, the filmmakers forgot to put anything actually controversial in the movie.
As it is, all this talk about the changing of religious history is little more than effective media hype by a team of pros in Brown, director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks. “The Da Vinci Code” offers plenty of questionable revelations about Christianity, but nothing outright shocking and nothing that will make followers of that faith question the belief.
The movie really is a treasure hunt; the treasure just so happens to be the Holy Grail, the “absolute truth” about God, if you believe the theories Brown presents.
Somehow, this reviewer miraculously remained one of the few people in the world not to read the book before seeing the movie, so there will be no comparisons (as it should be). But those who haven’t read the book beware: the plot is complicated.
“The Da Vinci Code” opens on a creepy albino monk (Paul Bettany, “Master and Commander”) murdering the curator of the Louvre in Paris. Robert Langdon (Hanks), a professor in occult symbolism, is called in to investigate the crime scene. The dying curator, it seems, has mutilated his body and left bizarre messages in codes around him.
The French police Captain Fache (Jean Reno) immediately suspects Hanks of murder, but he is saved by Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the curator’s granddaughter. They solve the riddle left behind by the curator and go on the lam to find answers, while being pursued by the cops and members of the Opus Dei organization, who are trying to keep them from uncovering something.
Their search brings them to an old colleague of Langdon’s, named Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). Teabing notices the artifacts they picked up in their search and informs them that they have stumbled on an ancient secret guarded by Sophie’s grandfather. This secret, if uncovered, could potentially lead to a change in the history of Jesus Christ and Christianity itself.
Confusing? It is for the first hour, but begins to make sense after Leigh discusses the secret, complete with slideshow. The pay-off is intriguing, but nothing to get worked up about if you have a strong religious conviction.
The film is mildly entertaining throughout and never boring, but be prepare for a lot of talk. This was probably the easiest way to get the debated facts from Brown’s novel about Opus Dei, the Priory of Scion and countless others. It’s hard enough to follow when spelled out to us; if just shown in images, the film would lose its audience with twhe facts ten minutes in.
The film doesn’t quite work, because frankly, the way the characters solve the many puzzles is completely absurd. Sure, they may be experts on breaking codes, but they do it so quickly, it seems like they got lucky by jumping to conclusions.
Take Hanks as Langdon, for example. One minute, it seems like he has little clue to why Opus Dei are after him, the next minute, he knows exactly what the kept secret is and even debates the facts with McKellen. He doesn’t help things any with his low-key delivery (and questionable hairdo); this is the least interesting performance from him in years.
The rest of the cast does okay; Tautou as the female lead is passable, but McKellen comes off as the winner here with his sly delivery and his later insane rantings. Bettany doesn’t do much but kill people and hurt himself. Jean Reno does what he does and does it well, and Alfred Molina shows up as a conspirator with little to do.
Director Howard (Oscar winner for “A Beautiful Mind”) almost never makes a bad movie, and he keeps the film running and provides for interesting scenarios. He seems to have caught Spielberg Syndrome, however. He doesn’t know when to end the film; it could easily have been 20 minutes shorter.
As for the portrayal of the Opus Dei? It’s nothing inflammatory, mostly guys who want to keep the history of Christ as it is. The film treats Molina and Bettany’s characters as the killers, apart from the group.
Just because the book supposedly bases its theories on factual information, doesn’t mean that “The Da Vinci Code” is out to change the world. The information is probably more theories, based on a time long passed and turned into mythology. Besides, the story itself is fictional; and the story is too ridiculous to take seriously.
“The Da Vinci Code” should not be looked at as an attack on Christianity or an exposé of the “truth.” Like the book, it is simply a piece of entertainment designed to get people to watch it. In other words, it is a summer movie.
Unfortunately, it is an overlong and only better-than-average summer movie.
Little quality to be found in ‘See No Evil’
“See No Evil” exists for one reason and one reason only: to give Vince McMahon another media outlet in which to make money.
McMahon, the head of World Wrestling Entertainment, has tried for years to find success beyond pro wrestling. After numerous failures with the World Bodybuilding Federation and the XFL, McMahon’s latest brainchild is WWE Film Studios.
But “See No Evil,” the company’s debut feature film, offers little hope that the studio will avoid its predecessors’ fate. With two additional movies on the way, McMahon better hope so; he’s running out of entertainment media to latch onto.
This film is not good; it could have been much worse, but it’s entertaining in an unintentionally funny way.
The film had several things going against it before its release. In addition to being produced by McMahon, it was written by a member of his writing staff for his wrestling shows. It is helmed a first-feature director, whose previous credits include music videos and porn (no joke).
And, of course, the film stars a pro wrestler.
Kane (born Glen Jacobs), the seven-foot-tall, 320 pound grappler and featured performer on “WWE Monday Night RAW” makes his feature film debut as Jacob Goodnight, a psychotic killer with a religious bent. He desires to kill and rip out the eyes of the unclean sinners of the world.
The film actually opens on a promising note, with two cops barging in on a run-down household. They discover a girl with her eyes gouged out. Then, Jacob sends one cop to his fate with an axe and cuts the other’s arm off before being shot in the head.
Four years later, the surviving cop is now working as a guard at the county detention center. He and another guard escort eight delinquents to an abandoned hotel to clean it up in exchange for reduced sentences. Jacob happens to be hiding out in that same hotel.
Okay, plot description over. Those who know the slasher formula—kids mess around, get killed, some survive, etc.—can recite it from memory. This is partly an homage and mostly a rip-off of every slasher film known to humankind, with some “Saw” elements thrown in.
The movie doesn’t work at all as an effective thriller; both director Gregory Dark and first-time feature writer Dan Madigan create no scenes of tension; half the time, the audience can’t be bothered to guess who eats Jacob’s hook/axe/random metal instrument next. But, if they were going for the campy charm of old B movies, they succeeded.
This film, for understandable and obvious reasons, is all about Kane. It is his star vehicle; his no-name co-stars are crafted so annoying to the point where Kane becomes a hero by ending their misery (and the audiences).
After ten years playing to crowds of 20,000 in WWE, Kane certainly has mastered the art of body language; he knows how to do the broad and little things whether stalking with his creepy smile or choke-slamming a hapless victim. His ugly mug (which required almost non-existent make-up) does wonders to make him out to be a freak.
One of the few things the film manages to do well is the gore effects. They are suitably nasty, if somewhat tasteless. But who can argue taste in a movie like this?
It also offers a couple of different kills, including a treat for anyone who holds a hatred for cellular phones and their owners.
But that’s where the quality ends. The plot is a mess, the editing tricks are distracting, the scene is design is disgusting and unsubtle and the film’s best actor—the beefy, bald-headed grappler—only has one line. Points awarded for effort, as amateurish as it all seemed.
One other thing that needs to be addressed: wrestling are likely aware that this film has the cheapest and most shameless promotion in quite sometime. McMahon had the Kane character go crazy whenever the date “May 19th” is mentioned; fans in attendance even taunted the former world champion with chants of “May 19th” (which just so happened to be the film’s release date). That kind of self-promotion has to be admired.
“See No Evil” will attract two audiences: wrestling fans looking to cheer on their hero and the curious type who want to see it in its numbskull glory.
“See No Evil”
From WWE Films, distributed by Lions Gate Films
. Starring Kane, Christine Vidal, Rachel Taylor, Luke Pegler and Michael J. Pagan
. Directed by Gregory Dark. Written by Dan Madigan.
Running Time: 84 Minutes
. Rated “R”—Graphic, gruesome violence and gore, language, nudity and drug use
X-Men: The Last Stand
The nuance and complexity of character that made the first two “X-Men” movies more compelling than the typically mindless summer blockbuster are gone in this third and allegedly final installment in the comic-inspired franchise. Instead, you get flying, flaming cars and a totally naked Rebecca Romijn.
You could call this The Brett Ratner Effect. Everyone’s fears came true about what would happen when the director of the buddy-comedy “Rush Hour” movies took over the “X-Men” series from Bryan Singer, who has moved on to this summer’s hotly awaited “Superman Returns.”
Ratner seems more concerned with spectacle than substance, offering a film that’s shorter than its predecessors yet crammed with more characters and more subplots, all of which come and go as quickly as Wolverine flashes and retracts his metal claws. But everyone involved with this film purports it to be the meatiest of the trilogy, with its premise that scientists have developed a cure for mutancy, and all the social and political implications that follow.
It’s all very high concept, but Ratner merely skims the surface. Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin and Patrick Stewart are among the returning stars.
PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language. 104 min. Two stars out of four.
In Zulu / Xhosa / Afrikaans with English subtitles This South African crime drama goes back six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader who steals a woman’s car, unaware that her baby is in the back seat. As he comes to care for the child, he begins to rediscover his humanity, dignity, and capacity to love. Based on the novel by Athol Fugard. This year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. Presley Chweneqagae, Mothusi Mogano.
R for language and some strong violent content/94 min.
CSA: Confederate States of America
A faux documentary takes a look at an America where the South won the Civil War. Supposedly produced by a British broadcasting company, the film is presented as a production being shown controversially for the first time on television in the U.S.
Through the use of of fabricated movie segments, government information films, commercials, news breaks, as well as actual stock footage from our own history, a provocative story is told of a country which, in many ways, frighteningly follows a parallel with our own. Written and Directed by Kevin Willmott; Narrated by Charles Frank Not Rate/89 min.
Thank You for Smoking
Nick Naylor, chief spokesman for Big Tobacco, makes his living defending the rights of smokers and cigarette makers. Confronted by health zealots out to ban tobacco, and an opportunistic senator who wants to put poison labels on cigarette packs, Nick goes on a PR offensive.
Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes. R for language and some sexual content/92 min.
Charlie takes up the reins of the family’s traditional Northhampton shoe business when his father dies. But bankruptcy looms without new orders, so Charlie looks to London for fresh ideas. He discovers through Lola, a sassy cabaret star, a world of outrageous fashion and stylish, erotic boots for men - a niche market a long way from mens classic brogues. Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Jemima Rooper.
PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, and for language/106 min.
A boutique owner is thrown into a terminal cash flow bind because of the spendthrift ways of her aging boyfriend. Faced with the seemingly impossible job of raising $40,000 over the weekend, Holly turns to her friends, her mother, and an affable loan shark, with mixed results, while also mounting a huge sale - and trying to shove her bad boyfriend out of her life and welcome in a new, perhaps better one.
PG-13 for brief strong language/106 min.
Mission: Impossible 3
Ethan’s mission, should he accept it, is to capture the “Rabbits Foot” and subdue the international terrorist that has eluded authorities worldwide. Directed by J.J. Abrahms (“Lost”, “Alias”) Tom Cruise, Keri Russell, Lawrence Fishburne, Ving Rhams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup.
PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and some sensuality/126 min.
Da Vinci Code
A Harvard symbologist is called in to decipher a baffling riddle found near the murdered body of the elderly curator of the Louvre. The cipher leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci, who was involved in a secret society. But there are those who would protect those secrets. Directed by Ron Howard (“A Brilliant Mind”, “Cinderella Man”) Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno. PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content/149 min.
A rogue wave capsizes a luxury liner in the middle of the North Atlantic. As the unstable vessel rapidly floods, deck by deck, a small group of survivors desperately battle to reach the surface. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (“Das Boot”, “Perfect Storm”) Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Andre Braugher, Kevin Dillon. PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of disaster and peril/98 min.
Over the Hedge
Woodland animals wake up from their hibernation to discover a suburban housing development encroaching on their forest home. As they learn to co-exist with, and even exploit this strange world, some humans become determined to rid their neighborhood of the animals they consider pests. Animated; Voice talents of Bruce Willis, Steve Carrell, Garry Shandling, Allison Janney, Thomas Haden Church, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Catherine O-Hara, Eugene Levy, Wanda Sykes. PG for some rude humor and mild comic action/83 min.
Just My Luck
Ashley, a young professional just out of college, has lived a charmed life and has always taken her good luck for granted. When she kisses a handsome stranger at a party, she accidentally swaps her good fortune for his horribly bad luck, and her charmed life turns into a living hell.
Lindsay Lohan, Chris Pine, Samaire Armstrong, Bree Turner, Faizon Love, Missi Pyle PG-13 for some brief sexual references/103 minutes.
An overworked executive persuades his wife and children to give up their Hawaiian vacation for some “family bonding” on a cross-country RV trip.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black”); Starring Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels, Cheryl Hines, Kristin Chenoweth.PG for crude humor, innuendo and language/102 min.