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Saturday
May162009

Angels & Demons

What do you do after your movie is nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards? If you're Ron Howard, you follow it up with a sequel to one of your most critically unsuccessful movies you've ever made. Outside of his 1977 film, Grand Theft Auto, The Da Vinci Code is Ron Howard's lowest ranking film as a director on Rotten Tomatoes. But hey, at least there's plenty to improve on, right? You'd think so. Unfortunately, Angels and Demons fares no better. While not a flat out failure, it's a paltry exercise in cinematic overkill, sporting miscast actors and an unconvincing storyline.

After pissing off the Catholic church in The Da Vinci Code, Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to Vatican City by the Vatican police official. Makes sense. As it turns out, a scientific team has found a means to create antimatter, an antiparticle harnessing the power to obliterate large areas, which has been stolen by a member of the Illuminati, a secret society at odds with the Vatican. The perpetrator has placed the highly explosive antimatter somewhere in Vatican City and it's up to Langdon to decipher the clues and save the city before it's too late.

From what I understand, the book this movie is based on is fairly long and detailed, so naturally, the filmmakers were forced to condense the material down into an acceptable runtime for a feature length film. The problem is that this approach makes the film feel rushed, evidenced by the fact that it rarely stops moving. Of course, just because it's moving doesn't mean anything is really happening. As if they knew it was uninteresting, frantic music plays continuously over the soundtrack, even when things seem to be calm, although calmness is a rarity in this picture.

Falling into the same pratfall as the previous movie, Langdon figures things out way too quickly. The brightest minds in the world couldn't pull off in a week what he does in a few short hours. At one point in the movie, Langdon is stumped, seemingly hitting a dead end. As luck would have it, he looks down at his watch (a Mickey Mouse watch I might add), sees something underneath his hand and immediately puts it all together, in a matter of seconds. Right. How fortunate that he was standing at that precise spot when he decided to become aware of time management. The film moved at the convenience of time rather than at the necessary tempo for an engaging story.

As the successor to The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons is oddly standalone, rarely referencing its elder, but the problem is that it's indisputably similar. In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon runs inside some churches, finds some clues and moves to the next destination. In Angels and Demons, he runs inside some churches, finds some clues, hops in a car and moves to the next destination. Totally different. For a standalone movie, it sure is reminiscent of the previous entry, a bad diagnosis for a film trying to differentiate itself.

Still, it isn't all bad. A terrific scene about two-thirds of the way through shows a priest suspended in a church above a fiery pit, burning to death while Langdon and the police try to save him, which ends up culminating into a bloody gun battle, ending with a mesmerizing shot of the bad guy standing in front of the now dead priest, fire ablaze behind him. It was hauntingly beautiful.

Too bad the bulk of the movie is still lousy. Angels & Demons began with an interesting idea and looked like it was going to delve into a thoughtful discussion on science and religion and the ongoing battle between scientific progress and Catholicism, but instead becomes merely another routine mystery movie that results in a predictable conclusion easily foreshadowed by the not so subtle camera tricks and lighting cast on the true villain.

With unnecessary CGI, a miscast (albeit still competent) Tom Hanks as an unconvincing symbology expert and many missed opportunities, Angels and Demons suffers from a lack of polish, a trait necessary for any mystery movie to work. This flick is purely an escapist adventure that many will enjoy, but it didn't all work for me. It's like that mediocre chick you hook up with across the street rather than the beautiful blonde across town. It's good enough for the time being, but you can't help but long for something more.

Angels and Demons receives 2/5

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