Despite the fact that my mother is recovering from shoulder surgery, I dragged her with me on Saturday to watch the Ron Howard-directed film version of the Dan Brown schlockfest/international phenomenon known as The Da Vinci Code. Now, I’ve not been shy about expressing my opinion of Brown’s novel (the short version being that I hated it a lot), so why would I go watch a movie based on it? Well, I was either expecting an afternoon of campy fun or I hate myself. Either way, I sat through all of it, and have come to one conclusion: The Da Vinci Code is the Anna Karenina of movies. Yes. In short, it is 149 minutes long, and it’s impossible not to feel all 8,940 seconds of it. I went into the theater for a 1:40 p.m. matinee, and when I left, I was surprised that it wasn’t the middle of the night. The Da Vinci Code is long, people. Do you hear me? It’s LONG. Kind of like what’s going on with Tom Hanks’s hair these days.
Now, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few years should at least have a passing familiarity with the premise of Dan Brown’s novel (and therefore, the film). If you have been living under a rock for the past few years, consider this to be your spoiler alert and go read something else. Okay. So, the film follows Dan Brown’s novel pretty closely, which seems logical, because when reading The Da Vinci Code, it’s perfectly obvious that Brown wrote it with the intention of getting a totally bitchin’ movie deal out of it. So, the story begins in Paris with a murder in the Louvre. Dr. Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks and his Hanks-Mullet — I guess they couldn’t get Harrison Ford, who was supposedly the movie star Langdon resembles in the book), Harvard professor of the fictitious discipline of symbology, is lecturing in Paris and is summoned to the murder scene, presumably because of the weird symbols present on the murder victim’s chest, but actually because he’s being set up as the murderer. With the help of codebreaker (and granddaughter of the victim) Sophie Neveau (played by the adorable Audrey Tautou), Langdon-Mullet slips from the police inspector’s grasp and embarks on the adventure of solving a centuries-old mystery, the clues of which were subversively planted by Leonardo Da Vinci in his masterworks. Got all that? Okay.
So what is this controversial secret? Well. It’s that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, got her pregnant, and got crucified. After his crucifixion, his widow, who had, at some point, given birth to a daughter, Sarah, takes her child and ends up in southern France. The child intermarries with the Merovingian kings, and Christ’s bloodline survives to this day, diluted as it may be, in France. That’s the story, more or less, though the real shocker is that you know the Holy Grail? It’s not the cup that Christ drank out of during The Last Supper. No, it’s Magdalene. There’s a really long scene explaining all of this — that the ancient symbol for woman was the chalice, that the church, in an anti-feminist plot, has been covering all of this up for centuries — and let me tell you, it’s certainly much more feminist to derive Mary Magdalene’s worth from the notion that she was The Holy Sperm Receptacle. Indeed.
It was during the revelation of this part of the story that I became quite ill. The room started spinning, and I felt dangerously close to throwing up on the floor, passing out, or throwing up on the floor and then passing out. It could’ve been the Kung Pao chicken, or it could’ve been low blood sugar, or it could’ve been that IT WAS ALL SO SHOCKING! I’M SO DIZZY! GAAAAHHHHH!!!
Anyway, I’m not really looking to debate the plot points, I’m just here to write about how effective it all was as a movie. So, despite the fact that I actually became physically ill which may or may not have been the fault of the film, I’ll just tell you that it all works out just perfectly. The bad guy gets arrested, the last living descendent of Christ is discovered, Hanks-Langdon-Mullet gets to kneel at the hidden grave of Mary Magdalene and totally waste a golden opportunity to overact in true Hanks style. As a murder mystery, it’s not particularly mysterious, and in many cases, the film is less effective at building suspense than the book was, which is quite an impressive feat, considering how lame Brown’s lumbering novel truly was. It did preserve some of the laughably horrible dialogue, like the constant exclamations of “Oh shit!” (in French, too!) and gems like “My God. I don’t believe this. A rose.” The problem, however, is that for what’s supposed to be an exciting thriller, the pacing is remarkably slow. I’m not sure if this is the fault of Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay or Ron Howard’s directing or both, but I’m pretty sure that it’s more thrilling to watch paint dry. I’ll have to paint something and let you know for sure. In fact, the only real thrill of the movie came at the beginning, while we waited for the Hanks-Mullet to make its appearance onscreen. The opening music was quite dramatic, and there were shots of hands and perhaps a shoulder before we were treated to the full-on horror of that thing attached to Tom Hanks’s head. I’m pretty sure the person sitting behind me gasped because it was just that bad. Sure, we’ve all seen it in miniature on television during the previews, but there’s really no comparison to the scale of the Hanks-Mullet on the big screen. I think I may still be in shock.
So, just for the record, I’d like to add my voice to the growing dismissal of this movie as being really bad. The film’s only saving grace was Ian McKellen, who played Sir Leigh Teabing, and seemed to be the only person having fun in a movie that was taking itself way too seriously. Kudos to you, McKellen, for being the one bright spot in a cinematic world overcome with bad dialogue and the overpowering evil of the Hanks-Mullet. Some movies know what they are, and therefore are entertaining in their badness because they don’t strive to be something more. This movie, on the other hand, is awful precisely because it takes itself just seriously enough to suck any potential “Yeah, I know I’m watching a bad movie, but it’s so bad it’s awesome” fun right out of it. And that’s a shame. Because seriously, The Da Vinci Code is not deep. Don’t try to make it that way.