| Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon" and "A Beautiful Mind") and Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks ("Charlie Wilson's War" and "Forrest Gump") are reunited in the follow-up to "The Da Vinci Code."
Hanks stars in the lead role of Harvard professor Robert Langdon, whose expertise lies in the interpretation of religious symbols. Langdon is summoned to Rome when an anagram appears announcing the return of The Illuminati, a secret underground society of scientists. They claim responsibility for kidnapping four cardinals in line for succeeding the recently deceased Pope and planting a bomb underneath Vatican City of highly combustible antimatter.
Langdon has four hours to rescue the cardinals and defuse the bomb. He is joined by Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer from "Munich"), the head physicist from the lab in Geneva, Switzerland, where the canister containing the antimatter was stolen.
Hanks, with a better hairstyle this time around, serves as both a lecturer on ancient history and tour guide of various churches. There is a lot of talking with very little action. Police cars race around the streets of Rome and the camera circles around the main players on at least three separate occasions.
The international cast includes Stellan Skarsgard (as head of the Swiss Guard), Armin Mueller-Stahl (as the elderly cardinal in charge of the conclave to elect a new Pope) and Ewan McGregor (as the dead Pope's chief assistant with the formal title of camerlengo). The heavily accented English of these supporting players makes understanding the dialogue rough sledding. Although mostly irrelevant, there is also lots of Latin and Italian spoken with English subtitles.
This mediocre film is not much of an improvement over the first movie. The clash between religion and science is brought up, but never explored in depth. The key exchange occurs when Langdon is asked if he believes in God. He replies, "I'm an academic and faith is a gift that I've yet to receive."
The four elements of earth, air, fire and water lead Langdon on a far-fetched, wild goose chase that stretches credibility. He is following the preposterous path of illumination that makes you think of the yellow brick road leading to the Wizard of Oz. A key figure burns to death at the conclusion, similar to the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West.
A deadly serious Hanks shows little emotion, maintaining a worried look on his face. He has no chemistry with his co-star Zurer. There is not even a hint of romantic inclinations with them merely holding hands briefly while walking through a crowded square.
It is hard to believe that this is the first time Howard has ever done a sequel considering the length of his directorial career. With the exception of voice work on "Toy Story 2" and the upcoming "Toy Story 3," Hanks had never before reprised the same character from a previous film.
The movie's major strengths are the production design, which faithfully recreates the edifices, statues and interiors throughout Vatican City, especially St. Peter's Square and the Sistine Chapel, and the terrific musical score by Hans Zimmer, which alternates between reverential and suspenseful.
This tepid movie is purposely meant to be confusing, with red herrings, plot twists and double crosses. It ultimately turns into a long ordeal to sit through at a plodding 138 minutes. It might have worked better as television mini-series with smaller bites of the apple and more character development. The condensation robs the viewer of the excitement and suspense built up in Brown's excellent page-turning bestseller. Nothing in the audio-visual format can duplicate the pleasurable cerebral experience of reading a captivating mystery thriller.
Langdon's Mickey Mouse wristwatch should suggest that there is plenty of time to read the book before the movie becomes available on DVD with pause and fast- forward buttons at your fingertips.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"