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Cannes Unveils Da Vinci Code

Images_17 The Cannes Festival got off to a rousing start Tuesday night as the press corps piled into the Salle Debussy to get the very first crack at solving The Da Vinci Code. It has been a long time since a film has been this eagerly awaited. The media juggernaut has been relentless—and global. I fell asleep the other night in my hotel room watching yet another breathless news feature unravelling the Da Vinci Code mysteries. The New Yorker, the NYT, The WSJ, the The London Times, all have weighed in on the backstory of the production and marketing and Christian tie-ins behind The Da Vinci Code. Which only serves to set it up more as a BIG DEAL Cannes launch.

The thing to remember about the Cannes press, especially the film critics, is that they are global, sophisticated, pretentious and quite often vicious. They love to slam the seats at a press screening, or hiss a movie during the closing credits. That level of rejection did not occur tonight. For the most part the movie unfolds like an engrossing glossy international thriller, and hews fairly closely to the book, which is a page-turner, if mechanically executed. But there were uncomfortable waves of titters throughout the film tonight, and when the BIG REVEAL comes, there was outright laughter.

That's because the movie errs on the side of caution in every way. It is so expensive (the budget is $125 million), and there's so much riding on its success, for Imagine producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard, who are both coming off flops, and for Columbia chairman Amy Pascal, who's coming off a rocky 2005 and badly needs a big summer blockbuster, that they couldn't afford to take any chances. So they make Tom Hanks handsome, smart and heroic and make sure he's leading the action, all the way (he even takes off his shirt to reveal a well-toned, tan, torso). Audrey Tautou is strictly window-dressing, nearly mute, drives backward quite well but does little of the clue solving (while her character was canny and sharp in the book) and is dressed like a New England schoolgirl. There's no hint of sexual interest between her and Hanks. They like and respect each other, Pelican Brief-style. There's also no hint of humor in Hanks' delivery of this Terribly Serious Story. (Scene- stealer Ian McKellan, on the other hand, is having a great time. As the albino killer monk, Paul Bettany is surprisingly sympathetic.) It's as if the film's religious content drove the fun out of the movie.

Perhaps Ron Howard's most grievous fault as a filmmaker is that he can be Very Earnest. The Da Vinci Code reads like Columbia and Imagine were afraid of the Christian reaction to the movie. While they pile on Opus Dei as a radical fascist sect made up of crazy monks (there are no monks apparently) who inflict pain on themselves to express their love of God (this is a common practice), the movie treads carefully when it comes to revealing the religious Mystery that it wants the audience to buy. It's quite reverent, in its way. But when a movie leans on the side of sincerity—in this ironic age—it may not play too well for stiletto-penned movie critics, many of whom were out for blood after this screening. It will play better to general audiences around the world, especially Christians like me who will probably find all the religious hocus pocus fascinating. But spare me the clumsy thrills and spills, please.

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