May 17, 2006

Critics Cold as The Da Vinci Code Secret is Out

By Mike Collett-White

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

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

Even before its general release on May 18 and 19, the movie generated huge controversy as Christians around the world, led by the Vatican, called for its boycott.

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 ordered the last 10 minutes of the film to be cut following protests from four Christian groups. The movie's distributor has appealed.

At a press 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.

"'Da Vinci' never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure," said Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter.

He called Tom Hanks's performance as symbologist Robert Langdon "remote, even wooden," and found the long passages of religious and historical debate cumbersome.

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 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 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.


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.

Hanks is expected to be joined in the glamorous Riviera resort by Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Willis, Gerard Depardieu, Penelope Cruz, Samuel L. Jackson, Monica Bellucci, Zhang Ziyi, Jamie Foxx and Beyonce.

Beyond The Da Vinci Code, the festival line-up promises a feast of politics and high-octane action.

Other major U.S. productions include "X-Men: The Last Stand" and the animated "Over the Hedge."

Spanish veteran Pedro Almodovar is back with "Volver," starring Penelope Cruz, and U.S. film maker Sofia Coppola presents "Marie Antoinette," with Kirsten Dunst playing the reviled young queen as France spirals toward bloody revolution.

Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation" is aiming to spoil the appetites of the big fast-food chains and Italian production "Il Caimano" satirizes outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Oliver Stone showcases 20 minutes of his upcoming 9/11 film "World Trade Center," French director Rachid Bouchareb examines the forgotten role of Arabs in defending France during World War Two and his countryman Bruno Dumont promises to provoke with "Flandres," set in an unspecified war.

Britain's Ken Loach tackles the early days of the fight for independence in Ireland, and former U.S. vice president Al Gore talks about global warming with "An Inconvenient Truth."