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Da invincible 'Code' falters on the big screen

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Controversies aside, just how good a movie is "The Da Vinci Code"? I realize that for many devout Christians and others - albinos reportedly are none too pleased - asking this question is a bit like the old joke: "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

But it is worth bearing in mind that "The Da Vinci Code" is based on a work of fiction and that the movie is, in the end, a movie. Trying to extract a theology lesson from this film makes about as much sense as watching Oliver Stone's "JFK" to learn the truth about the Kennedy assassination. Unlike Stone's movie, "The Da Vinci Code" is so transparently pitched as pulp entertainment that, in the end, it's about as subversive as "Starsky and Hutch."

If you are one of the 40 million people who has read Dan Brown's mega-bestseller, or even read about it in the approximately 40 million articles that have recently come out about it, you know that the plot centers on the reputed mortality of Jesus and the continuance of his bloodline. Since you may not be one of those 40 million, I'll keep any further divulgences to a minimum, except to say that if you haven't read the book, you're in for a lot of head-scratching.

Brown's 489-page tome reads like a bloated movie treatment and the overly long movie, directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, hews fairly closely to the book. Tom Hanks plays professor Robert Langdon, famed Harvard symbologist, who is drawn into a criminal investigation while in Paris to promote his new book. A curator at the Louvre has been murdered and Robert finds himself the prime suspect. Joining him on the run is the curator's estranged granddaughter, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a police cryptologist.

Together, without so much as a hearty hand clasp, they scamper across a fair amount of French and English acreage in search of exoneration and the secret hiding place of the Holy Grail. In its barest outline, the movie has a Hitchcockian premise: An innocent man is mistakenly fingered for a crime he didn't commit. The pseudo-religious overlay is essentially window dressing, a way of being fashionably scandalous.

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