Clutter won’t let ‘Angels’ ascend

Posted May 21, 2009, at 5:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

ANGELS & DEMONS, directed by Ron Howard, written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, 140 minutes, rated PG-13.

The new Ron Howard movie, “Chaos & Disorder” — sorry, “Angels & Demons” — is a sequel of sorts to 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code,” and like that earlier film, the news surrounding it is as dull as the luster on Miss California’s crown.

This is, in fact, another murky tale told by Howard by way of one of those forgettable Dan Brown best-sellers people only admit to reading after their third drink.

Unlike “Code,” which upon its release inspired hunger strikes, picketing, accusations of blasphemy, prayer vigils, endless debates and hype beyond all reason, “Angels & Demons” comes stamped with the Vatican’s blessing — a kiss of death for films that otherwise thrive under controversy.

But the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, nevertheless happily touted the film as “harmless entertainment.” For a film that was positioned for blockbuster status, let’s just say Howard and his producers were kneecapped by this blessing.

About the movie. Now that we’re out of Paris, where “Code” took place,” and in Italy, the best parts of the movie are, in fact, the scenic shots of that country and its cities, specifically Rome, which looks beautiful and oddly well-scrubbed. Viewers are better off for it — Rome looks so good here (much of the Vatican was re-created via seamless special effects and through physical reconstructions on a Hollywood backlot), it distracts you from the plot, which is at once absurd and hilarious.

From a script by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, this is a movie has people on the run. They run and they run and they run, and then they run some more — down streets, over rooftops, through the Vatican — if only to get to the next clue, and the clue that follows that one, and then the next clue, until the lot of it leaves you clueless.

Back for more but minus the mullet is Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who this time finds himself up against the Illuminati, a secret group of scientists who have apparently hired an assassin to do all sorts of unthinkable things in the wake of the pope’s death, such as blowing the hell out of Rome, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square using one neatly packaged bomb filled with nuclear antimatter.

It’s up to Langdon, working alongside the amusingly named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to use a wealth of religious clues to find the bomb before it’s too late. Meanwhile, in subplots, cardinals are kidnapped and grotesquely murdered, and a priest (Ewan McGregor) and a cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) come under close scrutiny. Are they doing God’s work — or advancing their own careers?

Beneath all this clutter is the framework for a good thriller that promises at its core a heated collision of faith and science, but Howard’s top-heavy movie suffocates it. Throughout, the performances are good and one scene involving a helicopter is well done, but most of the action is bogged down by uninteresting rhetoric and twists most will see coming long before the next clue is offered, the next chase scene ignited, the next revelation revealed.

Grade: C-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

Several titles are available and recommended this week, including the uber-hip crime show “The Mod Squad: Season Two, Vol. 2,” in which Link, Julie and Pete have just the right hippie look to fight undercover hippie crime, as well as the Blu-ray releases of the thriller “Taken” with Liam Neeson; the sequel to “Donnie Darko” in “S. Darko”; and two films from the James Bond franchise — Timothy Dalton in 1989’s “License to Kill” and Roger Moore in 1974’s “Man with the Golden Gun.” If you have to choose between those two, go with the latter.

From The History Channel, it’s a boon, with several television series being released. Highlights include the comprehensive “The Prehistoric Collection: From Dinosaurs to the Dawn of Man”; the third season of the popular series “The Universe”; and the massive “America at War” collection, a 14-disc set that begins with the Revolutionary War and covers each conflict that followed, including the war in Iraq.

Also recommended from the History Channel are the third season of “Cities of the Underworld”; the 14 discs amassed in the “Military Combat” collection; and “American Originals,” which features content from such series as “Ice Road Truckers,” “Ax Men, “Tougher in Alaska” and “Dangerous Missions.”

On Blu-ray, don’t miss “Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection,” which features “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” the outstanding “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” “Star Trek: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek: The Voyage Home.” Rounding out the set are “Star Trek: The Final Frontier,” “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country” and a bonus disc in “The Captains’ Summit,” which is hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and includes interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes.

The tight urban thriller “Changing Lanes” finds new life on Blu-ray, with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson featured as two men from different walks of life whose lives literally collide on Manhattan’s FDR Drive. The ugliness that stems from their first encounter is just the beginning of a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge that lasts for the rest of the movie, which snags good performances from all involved, including Toni Colette.

Finally — disappointingly — there’s John Woo’s “Paycheck,” a bum time-warp thriller that also stars Ben Affleck. The film is derivative and dumb, with an amnesiatic Affleck struggling to get through a weak role that squanders his appeal as he’s wholly miscast. Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart round out the edges, but they’re not enough to keep this “Paycheck” from bouncing out of Blu-ray players and into the trash, where it belongs.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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