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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

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