You dirty Ratzinger.
Angels & Demons (2009): 3 out of 10: Something bad has happened to Ron Howard. I don’t know what exactly, but something has gone very wrong.
Howard has always been a decent workman director. While he will never be mistaken for an artistic savant, both Cinderella Man and Apollo 13 were excellent films, Parenthood was pretty good and even Angels & Demons prequel/sequel The Da Vinci Code was a fun romp. In addition, none of his films have been downright awful. (Note I have seen neither How the Grinch Stole Christmas nor his newest film Heidi Montag Says No to Plastic.) What’s more Howard held this quality is such devise genres as star-driven Oscar bait (A Beautiful Mind), star-driven costume drama (Far and Away), star-driven revenge fantasy (Ransom) and comedies about prostitution and mermaids (Night Shift, Splash).
So what happened? Angels & Demons is at its center a poorly directed and shot film. Scenes are too dark, camera angles are all wrong, the actors block each other’s shots and the whole affair is often out of focus. This makes the telling of an already confusing story even more muddled.
Dan Brown gets picked on a lot but I found The Da Vinci Code a fun readable romp (so sue me). The movie version of The Da Vinci code kept the same where are they going to next vibe of the book and added an attractive cast and attractive location shooting.
Angels & Demons, however, takes place in the claustrophobic confines of Vatican City and since Howard wasn’t allowed to film in many of the real locations, we end up with a lot of running around a CGI back lot. The entire film is as if Rick Steves did a Vatican City special and instead of visiting the Holy City and pointing his camera, Rick had to use Lego bricks and a second-hand art book with all the tits erased.
While the Da Vinci code had what I still think is an intriguing central mystery (again sue me), Angels & Demons story comprises a plot by the Illuminati (roll eyes now) to destroy the Vatican. Their idea was to take positions in schools for the deaf around the world and raping every student repeatedly. Oops, my bad;Apparently the Vatican doesn’t need any help on that one.
Anyway, the Illuminati plan to infiltrate Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, kill the head priest, and steal three vials of antimatter. This begs more than a few questions. Can the Hadron Collider create antimatter? Can you capture the antimatter once created? Why is the EU collecting it? (Perhaps they fear a Godzilla attack?). Why is the head of antimatter gathering a Vatican priest?
Now once the Illuminati gets the antimatter, they will use its incredible destructive power to take over the world? No? Unfortunately, the Illuminati haven’t quite grasped that Pinky and the Brain level of sophistication just yet.
Instead, the current pope has just died and its conclave time. The top-seeded Cardinals for the final four pope tournament are all kidnapped and the Illuminati are killing them one by one Seven style. They are good sports, however, are leaving clues at every murder like some Latin themed Riddler. Oh, and the last kidnapped Cardinal has the antimatter and if he isn’t found in time, Rick Steves will have to go straight to Venice next year to see decent frescoes. If only there was some Latin themed Batman to save the day?
Okay, the story is awful, and it is poorly told, but maybe this is one of those films saved by great performances? You know a true character study (Okay, you know where this is going).
Unfortunately, Tom Hanks gives a wooden performance and looks awful (he is also too old to play the character by about twenty years.) His love interest Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer has zero chemistry with either Hanks or the screen. Ewan McGregor plays the Pope’s personal assistant/cabana boy as an Irish man who looks like he is about to break into a musical number at any moment, providing no one steals his Lucky Charms.
On the plus side, Stellan Skarsgård puts in a fine turn as head of Vatican Security and as far as we know, no deaf children were raped during the making of this film which puts it ahead of its Vatican critics in at least one area.