Angels & Demons

Look, just because the dead pope’s coffin gets pried open to reveal his hideously lolling tongue; and one cardinal’s decomposing face gets gnawed on by rats; and another’s punctured lungs spew geysers of blood; and another gets strung up and burned alive; and another gets saddled with weights and tossed into a fountain to drown; and also there is some devious political corruption; doesn’t make Angels & Demons anti-Catholic.

If anything, Ron Howard’s movie of Dan Brown’s book makes Catholicism seem fun! Seriously. A splash of cheap theatrical spectacle, escapist B-movie ponderousness, horror-flick shock tactics, and of course silly costumes, for old times’ sake, might be just the kick-in-the-vestments PR push this institution needs. Forget opiates of the masses. Try amphetamines!

Here’s how it rolls. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) finds himself whisked to Vatican City, where a murderous, scientifically threatening, religiously confounding conspiracy is afoot. This is quite handy for Langdon, actually; he can’t finish the book he’s been working on without access to the Vatican archives–access heretofore forbidden because, let’s just say, there was some unpleasantness. (For reference, if not for pleasure, consult Howard’s other film of Brown’s other bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.)

Anyway, yes, the pope has rather suddenly died, and some of the cardinals in contention to replace him–known collectively as the Preferiti–have been kidnapped. No ransom will suffice for their return, but how about some overdue props for the church’s ancient rival, a science-minded, secret, and now highly psychopathic brotherhood known as the Illuminati? Their plan for the evening is to kill one of these cardinals every hour, and then use some anti-matter stolen from a Geneva supercollider to blow the Vatican up.

Ambitious, is it not? You’ll forgive these Illuminati boys for being so proud of their plan that they just can’t resist leaving a trail of ancient symbols and codes for Langdon to follow in order to defeat it. And the code-breaking comes easily, of course. It’s the whole working with people thing that tends to hang Mr. Know-It-All up. These include, but are not limited to, Ayelet Zurer as an attractive but romantically neutral Italian particle physicist; Stellan Skarsgard as the officious head of the Swiss Guard; Armin Mueller-Stahl as a dodgy old cardinal; Nikolaj Lie Kaas as a ruthless assassin; and Ewan McGregor as the church camerlengo.

Yes, even during a deeply unsettling crisis, the affairs of the pope-less Catholic Church will be entrusted to Renton from Trainspotting. Or, if you prefer, young Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s not so bad, is it?

Well, you’ll see. The scavenger-hunt-against-the-clock proceeds swiftly and ludicrously, with Hanks and co. scampering around from crypt to archive to piazza to chapel, screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman sprinkling in risibly expository exchanges of dialogue, and Howard meting out preferiti punishments, among other perversely popcorn-munchable thrills. And just wait till you get an earful of all that overcooked choral music in Hans Zimmer’s profanely earnest, schlocky soundtrack!

Trash, sure. Blasphemy? Hell no.