The Da Vinci Code Ron Howard

For all its purple prose and complete lack of fleshed out, interested characters, there’s a reason why Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code has sold nearly 100 million copies: it hits the ground running, in an educated chase-movie kind of way, and doesn’t let up until its finale. Sure, it uses every cliché in the canon, particularly ending pretty much every chapter with a gasp-inducing "cliff-hanger,” but that’s why it seems like a no-brainer to be made into a high gloss Hollywood thriller.

But in adapting a book that already reads like a screenplay outline, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have managed the seemingly impossible: they made a clunky, slow-paced film out of a novel whose only virtue is the breathless pace of its narrative. In order to skirt "controversy,” they try to turn a minor, briefly sketched villain (Opus Dei pawn Silas) into a major threat, and undercut the thrill of Brown’s mystery-solving sleuthery.

To their credit, Howard and Goldsman do have a fair amount of dreck to hack through, both in plot and lazy philosophising, but at the same time, they don’t actually respect the nature of the book’s unravelling mysteries. And on several occasions, the film completely bundles an important "reveal” — something the gasp-friendly novel wouldn’t allow.

In its lead roles — as symbology professor Robert Langdon and cop/victim’s granddaughter Sophie Neveau — Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou (Amélie) are both unusually wooden, lending no charm to the occasionally laughable dialogue they’re asked to spout. Thank god then for Ian McKellan, as eccentric Holy Grail expert Leigh Teabing, another in a fine line of British actors who delight in making a meal of some good old Hollywood tripe.

While a long brewing "controversy” will keep the film afloat at least for a while, it’s quite remarkable that this much assembled talent managed such a job of hackery on material that should be what Hollywood does best. (Sony)