- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

CANNES, France — The word is out on the movie version of “The Da Vinci Code,” and it is not good. Try “grim,” “unwieldy” and “plodding.”

Director Ron Howard’s much-hyped adaptation of the Dan Brown best seller opened the annual Cannes film festival, where some in the audience laughed or walked out and many critics smote the would-be summer blockbuster as a windy thriller.

Variety, the entertainment industry bible, unexpectedly gladdened the hearts of Christians protesting the film around the world with one of the sharper pans on the eve of its general release tomorrow.

“A pulpy page-turner in its original incarnation as a huge international bestseller has become a stodgy, grim thing in the exceedingly literal-minded film version of ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” critic Todd McCarthy wrote.

The Hollywood Reporter called the film “a bloated puzzle” in which “scenes grow so static that even camera movement can’t disguise the dramatic inertia.”

The Boston Globe dismissed the movie, which stars Tom Hanks, as “almost as bad as the book.”

Mr. Brown’s novel originally outraged many Christians because its central theme denies the divinity of Jesus Christ while playing fast and loose with history to advance a plot about early church leaders grabbing power and subjugating women.

The plot revolves around a hidden secret — that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child by her and that elements within the Catholic Church resorted to murder to hide the truth.

In Thailand yesterday, a police-run censorship board overturned an earlier decision to cut the last 10 minutes of the film, but insisted that the distributor add disclaimers stating it was fiction.

In addition to Vatican calls to boycott the movie, the Indian government said it would show the movie to Christian groups before clearing it for release.

In the mainly Catholic Philippines, censors gave the movie an “adult-only” rating. The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, had denounced both the movie and novel as an attack on the divinity of Jesus.

Authorities in Singapore and South Korea have rejected calls to ban the film, saying audiences understand that it is fictional, the Associated Press reported.

The Christian Council of Korea, an umbrella group of 63 South Korean Protestant denominations, said it respected the ruling but would lead a boycott of the movie, which it said defiles the sanctity of Jesus Christ and distorts facts, according to the Associated Press.

At a press conference, Mr. Howard and Mr. Hanks defended the film, calling it a piece of fiction.

“This is not a documentary,” Mr. Hanks said. “This is not something that is pulled up and says, ‘These are the facts and this is exactly what happened.’ … People who think things are true might be more dangerous than people who ponder the possibilities that maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.”

British actor Alfred Molina, who plays a Machiavellian bishop, blamed the press for creating controversy where there was little or none.

At the screening late Tuesday in Cannes, members of the audience laughed at the thriller’s pivotal moment and some later walked out. The audience greeted the end of the $125 million film with stony silence.

Variety also described the movie as “high-minded, lurid material sucked dry by a desperately solemn approach.”

Lee Marshall of Screen International agreed.

“I haven’t read the book, but I just thought there was a ridiculous amount of exposition,” the critic told Reuters.”I thought it was plodding, and there was a complete lack of chemistry between [co-star] Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks.”

Fox News wrote on its Web site that when the movie “takes a brief wrong turn, and Howard momentarily loses control of his huge, streamlined vehicle, it’s hard to say where to put the blame.”

Mr. Howard had some advice for those who object to the story.

“There’s no question that the film is likely to be upsetting to some people,” the director said. “My advice is … to not go and see the movie if you think you’re going to be upset.”

Ian McKellen, an openly homosexual actor who co-stars with Mr. Hanks, sought to make light of the controversy.

“I’m very happy to believe that Jesus was married,” Mr. McKellen said. “I know the Catholic Church has problems with gay people, and I thought this would be absolute proof that Jesus was not gay.”

Although critics argue that the controversy surrounding the film and the fact that more than 40 million people have bought the book will ensure a strong box-office performance, word-of-mouth is likely to hit sales later on.

The premiere kicked off 12 hectic days of screenings, interviews, photo calls and partying at Cannes, the world’s biggest film festival.

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