By Jeff Labrecque
November 14, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Da Vinci Code: Simon Mein
  • Movie

To swallow the premise of The Da Vinci Code is to forsake centuries of church dogma, mountains of conflicting evidence, and most egregiously, the plot to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Even if heaven relents, Dan Brown, the gates to Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure ride will forever be closed to you.)

Much has been written about the theological earthquake generated by Brown’s best-seller, in which he proposes that the Holy Grail is not some first-century chalice, but an actual woman. The controversy only increased after Ron Howard and Tom Hanks agreed to make the film adaptation, as every offended group, from conservative Christians to albinos, lobbied publicly for changes to the book’s portrayals and perspective.

To Howard and Co.’s credit, the film hews pretty closely to Brown’s thriller. But therein lies another problem. The book is a page-turner, but it’s full of arcane religious exposition — fascinating, mind you — from bookish Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks). When he’s suddenly thrust into the role of a big-screen man of action, though, lines like ”I have to get to a library! Fast!” don’t have the same verve. Brown points out in ”A Portrait of Langdon,” one of 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes, that Howard cast Hanks specifically because he’s ”an actor you love to watch think,” but even the two-time Oscar winner once needed a volleyball to liven up the screen. Here, he’s surrounded by a distinguished international cast: Audrey Tautou, as a French Clarice Starling; Paul Bettany, as an albino monk who looks like Emperor Palpatine in his days as a Ford model; and Jean Reno, as a pious copper. But only Ian McKellen manages to imbue his character, the crippled Grail scholar Sir Leigh Teabing, with vivacity equal to his talent. He doesn’t appear until the 58-minute mark, but the film crackles with his wry shenanigans and misses him dearly when he’s absent.

The creative principals seem understandably exhausted by the Code controversies, considering Brown’s book inspired an entire new subgenre in publishing as well as a wave of TV documentaries. In 100 minutes of extras, there’s no mention of Opus Dei, the seismic ecclesiastical debate at the heart of the story, or production inconveniences — Westminster Abbey denied the filmmakers access — and it’s the rare two-disc set that lacks even one commentary. Brown shares plans for his upcoming Langdon sequel (it’s set in the U.S.) and Howard reveals the hidden Grail messages he placed throughout the film. Ho-hum, but we do get to the bottom of Hanks’ long, wavy hair. ”Women instantly really, really dug it,” insists Howard. That’s probably not what Brown had in mind when he wrote about the ”sacred feminine.”