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Thursday, May 14, 2009

ANGELS AND DEMONS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Ron Howard
Producers: John Calley, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard
Executive Producer: Dan Brown and Todd Hallowell
Associate Producers: William M. Connor, Kathleen McGill and Louisa Velis
Line Producer, Italy: Ute Leonhardt
Writers: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman, from the novel by Dan Brown
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi, Cosimo Fusco, Victor Alfieri, Franklin Amoebi, Curt Lowens, Bob Yerkes, Marc Fiorini, Carmen Argenziano, Howard Mungo, Rance Howard
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English and Italian with English subtitles
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama, Mystery
Running Time: 138 Minutes

By D.E.Levine

In this follow up to The Da Vinci Code, Tom Hanks returns as Harvard symbologist Robert Landgon. Although the book was written and published before The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons is being hyped as a sequel to the movie.

Having thoroughly irked the Vatican with the first film so that high-ranking prelates urged a boycott of the film and created adverse publicity which Sony capitalized on to augment ticket sales, this time, just before the Rome opening, director Ron Howard complained that he and his crew were not permitted to film in the Vatican itself and certain churches and areas of the city outside of the Vatican's jurisdiction. The Caserta Royal Palace in Southern Italy was used as a stand-in for the Vatican.

But the Vatican has remained much cooler and reserved this time and L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, has offered no rebukes about Angels and Demons. In fact, the only church official on record is Monsignor Antonio Rosario Mennona who called the new film "highly denigrating, defamatory and offensive" to the Catholic Church.

Professor Langdon, who proved no favorite of the Vatican in The Da Vinci Code is summoned to Rome by the Holy See. The pope has died and while the Catholic Church prepares to elect a new one, Professor Langdon is summoned by Inspector Olivetti because the four Preferenti, the favorites to become pope, have been kidnapped by the Illuminati, a secret 17th century science worshipping society.

Threatening to mutilate and kill one cardinal every hour and then to detonate a newly invented antimatter bomb that will destroy Vatican City, the Illuminati has posted a live camera feed of the bomb and left a series of cryptic clues that Langdon, partnering with physicist Victoria Vetra, deciphers.

Langdon and Vetra, assisted by Inspector Olivetti and Camerlengo Patrick, and somewhat hindered by Swiss Guards commander Richter, go racing against the clock and it's difficult, if not impossible to differentiate between the authentic Roman locations, Hollywood stage sets and CGI effects.

Having been denied access to the Vatican archives for many years, Langdon is now given special permission to use the archives to decipher the Illuminati clues to search for the cardinals and the bomb. His search leads him to angel sculptures in churches that point to other churches.

As Italian police car race dangerously through narrow Roman streets, they arrive minutes too late to save a dead or dying cardinal. Branded by the Illuminati with the words Earth, Air, Fire or Water, Langdon and Vetra do an amazing job of deciphering the clues only to be captured by the fanatic assassin (either a member or or hired by the Illuminati).

In addition to the flight and chase, the race against time and the uncovering of individual deceptions, we see politics behind the walls of the Vatican with hidden agendas, competing jurisdictions, individual greed, and several types of fanaticism.

It's true that the film never lives up to expectations. However, there is plenty of mystery despite the inherent silliness of the overall story. There are twists to the plot and unexpected revelations that the viewer doesn't expect and while the Vatican itself wasn't used, the film is visually stunning. How bad can Rome, the eternal city, look?

Given the aesthetics and excellent performances by the cast, the film is entertaining if not culturally enlightening.