May 17, 2006

The Da Vinci Code secret is out: critics hate it

By Mike Collett-White

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Critics panned "The Da Vinci
Code" on Wednesday ahead of the world premiere of the year's
most eagerly awaited movie.

Opening the annual Cannes film festival, Ron Howard's
adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller was described variously
as "grim," "unwieldy" and "plodding."

Even before its general release on May 18 and 19, the movie
starring Tom Hanks generated much controversy as Christians
around the world called for it to be banned.

The novel has enraged religious groups because one of its
characters argues that Jesus Christ 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 on Wednesday, a police-run censorship board
overturned an earlier decision to cut the last 10 minutes of
the film, but insisted the distributor added disclaimers
stating it was fiction.

And in addition to Vatican calls to boycott the picture,
the Indian government said it would show the movie to Christian
groups before clearing it for release. In the mainly Catholic
Philippines the censors have given it an "adult only" rating.

At a news conference, Howard and Hanks defended the film,
calling it a piece of fiction. British actor Alfred Molina, who
plays a Machiavellian bishop in the movie, blamed the media for
creating controversy where there was little or none.

At a screening late on Tuesday in Cannes, members of the
audience laughed at the thriller's pivotal moment, and the end
of the $125 million picture was greeted with stony silence.

Trade publication Variety had barely a nice word to say.

"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,"
wrote Todd McCarthy.

Lee Marshall of Screen International agreed.

"I haven't read the book, but I just thought there was a
ridiculous amount of exposition," he told Reuters.

"I thought it was plodding and there was a complete lack of
chemistry between Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks."


While critics argue 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 movie industry will be watching The Da Vinci Code
particularly closely after the first two summer blockbusters --
"Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon" -- failed to find the
Hollywood Grail of box office success.

Hanks defended the film against its critics.

"This is not a documentary. 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."

Howard had some advice for those who objected to the story.

"There's no question that the film is likely to be
upsetting to some people. My advice is ... to not go and see
the movie if you think you're going to be upset."

Ian McKellen, an openly gay actor who plays Leigh Teabing
in The Da Vinci Code, sought to make light of the controversy.

"I'm very happy to believe that Jesus was married," he
said. "I know the Catholic Church has problems with gay people
and I thought this would be absolute proof that Jesus was not

The Da Vinci Code premiere late on Wednesday kicks off 12
hectic days of screenings, interviews, photocalls and partying
in Cannes, the world's biggest film festival.