Angels and Demons, Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer

Paramount Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Seeking penance for his abysmal adaptation of Dan Brown's megahit book The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard picks up the pace with the sequel. But this diligent yet dull religious caper only adds to the long list of Tom Hanks throwaway features, movies best enjoyed on airplanes.

The Bigger Picture: Is there a more unholy alliance than Hanks and Howard in movies today? The two have conspired on some very play-it-safe, softball pop, and Angels & Demons is no exception.

The first of many problems is Howard's fumbling of a high-stakes game and the subversive fun of Brown's book. When Pope Liberal McProgressivepants III dies, a global cabal of cardinals has to choose a new head of the billion-member Catholic Church. But Howard gives the affair the intrigue of student council meeting.

Things get a little hotter when the Illuminati, a rogue sect of dudes who love science and hate serious men in big hats (like popes!), keeps kidnapping and murdering the fan favorites. The Vatican then brings in symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks), armed with a bewildering knowledge of religious lore and a mystifying toupee—of truth! Once again, Hanks, gives a numbing and empty performance, which gets us to the greatest mystery of the movie: Why do you continue to love him, America? Why!?

Next problem, sure, it's tough getting permits to film in the Vatican, but the CGI is embarrassingly bad. Interior shots are unnecessarily digitized, priests are engulfed in the phoniest of flames and there are really dopey effects surrounding an evil, world-destroying antimatter.

Sheesh, they could have better spent the cash on one more zesty screenwriter to give the mysteries a little more pulp.

Also, the angels-to-demons ratio is way off. Brown's novel is brainy and filled with all kinds of grisly murder. But Howard's version is all ancient statues, musty scrolls and paintings. There's hardly any brimstone, only some smatter of blood, nary a thumbscrew—but a there's a whole boatload of weepy sculptures.

Hardcore devotees may not be as disappointed, seeing the rich literary/art history descriptions come to life. All the obscure papers, frescoes and devilish obelisks are contextualized in a murderous Roman holiday. But like the less inspired Potter flicks, it's a curious delight to fans only.

The 180—a Second Opinion: People, when did we stop paying attention to Ewan McGregor? As a shifty Church big shot, he's both dreamy and talented and feeds the movie the little bit of soul that it's so starved for.

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