Page 22 THE VILLADOM TIMES I, II & III • May 27, 2009 Intrigue and murder come to the Vatican by Dennis Seuling I was not a big fan of the 2006 film, “The Da Vinci Code,” which was based on the enormously popular Dan Brown novel. I found that its mixture of chases, a clandestine renegade Catholic sect, and an overly involved puzzle leading to the solving of a crime added up to a movie that was too long and too contrived. An earlier Brown novel, “Angels and Demons,” whose events occur after those in “The Da Vinci Code,” has now come to the screen and the results are a lot more rewarding. The film opens with the death of the Pope. Before the Conclave of Cardinals can assemble to select a new leader, the preferitti, the four leading contenders for the position, are kidnapped. A threat of their assassination, one each hour, and the complete destruction of the Vatican City is made, and a mysterious symbol is found. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to the Vatican and determines the symbol represents the Illuminati, a group once persecuted by the church for its belief in science but thought nonexistent for centuries. Langdon is paired with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a scientist hoping to track down the antimatter stolen from her Geneva lab, which would provide the means of blowing up a huge part of Rome, if the threat is real. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, center) is called to the Vatican to unravel a plot to undermine the papacy in ‘Angels and Demons.’ Director Ron Howard introduces a cast of characters -- some good, some not -- and makes us wonder where their loyalties lie. There is Commander Richter (Stellen Skarsgard), head of the Swiss Guard, the private police force dedicated to protecting the Pope; Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), assigned the important role as elector in the conclave; and Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), the person who runs things at the Vatican during the period between popes. Since Langdon returns from his adventures in “The Da Vinci Code,” it seems natural that Tom Hanks reprises the role from that film. He is good, but doesn’t sparkle. That is not entirely his fault, since the script spends a good deal of time with the sizable supporting cast. Langdon almost instantaneously deciphers clues left by an assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). Though this is unrealistic even for an expert on Catholic doctrine and ancient symbolism, at least it moves things along briskly with few lapses. Zurer’s role is mostly an ear for Langdon’s exposition, which informs the audience what is happening. These passages always find the pair walking, running, racing, or in some imminent danger, thereby keeping things visually interesting. As with any well constructed mystery, “Angels and Demons” is filled with red herrings. Director Howard keeps us guessing throughout as a literal bomb ticks away and the lives of four cardinals hang in the balance. The screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman is clever and features some excellent dialogue, mostly from the supporting cast. McGregor’s Camerlengo, for instance, interviews Langdon privately when he arrives in the Vatican and asks him pointblank whether he believes in God. This is not an attempt at conversion but at laying their cards on the table. This fairly young man displays gravity, dedication, and seriousness one might associate with an older man. Mueller-Stahl has made a career of playing formidable characters who wield power, but whose motives are never transparent. That works well for his Cardinal Strauss. His face can be read any number of ways, so as an ingredient in a mystery, Mueller-Stahl is one to watch. There are a number of beautifully staged sequences in “Angels and Demons,” though some are quite graphic, which is surprising considering the film’s PG-13 rating. Director Howard filmed much of the movie in Rome but was not permitted access to the Sistine Chapel, so these scenes were shot on sound stages that stand in for the real thing very nicely. The scene of the Cardinals walking into conclave is also impressive, as the bright red of their clerical attire stands out against the subdued browns and shadows of their surroundings. The big flaw, of course, is that if a disgruntled group wanted to blow the Vatican off the globe, would it really resort to such an elaborate follow-the-dots scheme, taunting others to figure out the plot? But if you subtracted this element, there would be no movie. Dan Brown latched into a formula that has worked effectively for him: creating maze-like mysteries in the milieu of the Catholic Church. This allows him to combine murder with clouded motives, tap the church’s history, and elevate what would be fairly ordinary whodunits into thrillers with more at stake than the identification of the killer. “Angels and Demons” is a stylish film directed with care by Howard, who understands the importance of good casting in making a movie click. State Line 375 State Highway 17 North, Mahwah Open 24 Hours, 7 Days Join Us For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner The Best Got Better! Diner - Restaurant 201-529-3353 Now Serving Cocktails, Espresso & Cappuccino $ 00 On $10.00 and over. With this coupon only. One Coupon per table. 5:00 to 9:00 pm only. Off 1 $ 00 VT On $20.00 and over. With this coupon only. One Coupon per table. 5:00 to 9:00 pm only. 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