I know why the ‘Mona Lisa’ smiles

“The Da Vinci Code”

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ron Howard

Written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown

Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina

Rated PG-13/149 minutes

Opened May 19, 2006

Two out of four stars

Aaron Allen

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Dan Brown’s best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code has been adapted into a movie for the literal-minded, with no sense of style or excitement.

Director Ron Howard and his screenwriter Akiva Goldsman slavishly transplant Brown’s pot-boiling Catholic conspiracy to the big-screen, and therein lies the problem. For those of us who have read the book and know the story inside and out, the movie has little new to offer. Perhaps sensing how controversial the book was (and still is), Howard decided to play it straight.

For those (three or four) of you who haven’t read the book, I wonder if the plot will make any sense to you. I wonder if you’ll scratch your head over the motivation of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an American symbologist who rushes around Europe following clues to the Holy Grail, not so much because he’s passionate about it, but because the scintillating story won’t tell itself.

Indeed, the story is rightfully controversial. A murder at the Louvre is connected with Opus Dei, a real-life Catholic sect that-in this movie, at least-will resort to any means necessary to cover up a secret that could “destroy the very foundations of Christianity.”

Langdon is wrongly implicated in the murder, along with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou, doing a good job at looking overwhelmed). For being wanted criminals, they sure do take their time to stand around and figure things out. There’s no sense of urgency.

Langdon is a cipher, a dispenser of information, just like everyone else in this overly explanatory movie. Books are the ideal medium for the exchange of dialogue and ideas-Brown’s sprawling theories and histories are more at home in our imaginations where they can stretch, seep and be decoded. On film, this glut of information flies by without much care or context.

We might care more if we had a rooting interest in the characters. From reading the book, I couldn’t tell you a thing about Langdon aside from the fact that he might make a good replacement for one of those audio tour tapes at the Louvre. The movie takes a stab at Hitchcockian depth by giving him a claustrophobic tic, but it’s padding without a payoff.

Too much reverence has been paid to a book that’s not even that well written (Brown describes Langdon by having him look in a mirror-I know fifth-graders who would laugh at that). Like Chris Columbus and his adaptations of the first two Harry Potter books, Howard and Goldsman are too concerned with dutifully trotting out the plot to make it come alive.

All those conservative Christian boycotters needn’t worry-“The Da Vinci Code” lacks the nerve to shake anyone’s faith.