CANNES, France (AP) — Early critics seemed happy to try to break “The Da Vinci Code.”
Reaction ranged from halfhearted admiration to boredom to derision among journalists at the first press screening of the Ron Howard-Tom Hanks blockbuster in waiting, premiering Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival and opening worldwide through Friday.
“`Da Vinci’ never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure,” wrote critic Kirk Honeycutt in the trade paper The Hollywood Reporter.
Associated Press critic Christy Lemire found the movie “cursory and rushed. … As sturdy and versatile an actor as Hanks can be, he can’t work miracles when he’s got nothing to work with.”
Laughter rippled through the theater near the end of the film at the Cannes press screening Tuesday night when Hanks’ character, symbologist Robert Langdon, reveals a key secret to co-star Audrey Tautou with ponderous melodrama.
From then on, critics who had sat largely in polite silence for more than two hours tittered at will as the final scenes played out.
“It’s not a good sign when your film’s big revelatory moment is greeted with laughter,” wrote Stephen Schaefer, a film writer for The Boston Herald.
Given the nature of the revelation, it necessarily was a line of dialogue loaded with dramatic heft, Hanks said.
“It is in some ways perhaps the fulcrum of the movie,” Hanks said at a news conference before the film’s evening premiere. “The weight of those words carry very heavy in Mr. Langdon’s tongue.”
Some critics found the weight of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s script too heavy to bear, saying Langdon’s lengthy asides on religious and cultural icons choked the story’s suspense.
In the trade paper Daily Variety, critic Todd McCarthy called “The Da Vinci Code” a “stodgy, grim thing. …
“Sitting through all the verbose explanations and speculations about symbols, codes, secret cults, religious history and covert messages in art, it is impossible to believe that, had the novel never existed, such a script would ever have been considered by a Hollywood studio,” McCarthy wrote.
Adapted from Dan Brown’s best seller, “The Da Vinci Code” is the year’s most anticipated movie, starring Hanks and Tautou as strangers hurled together on a frantic all-nighter in pursuit of the Holy Grail after a series of murders is committed.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003
The filmmakers add some twists and variations, but the general thrust of the novel remains intact, including its theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, which has prompted denouncements from many Christians.
Critics at the world’s most prestigious film festival tend to be a tough crowd, and their bedevilment over “The Da Vinci Code” may have been exacerbated by distributor Sony’s tight lid on the movie.
The studio held off on screening the film until the last minute, executives saying they wanted to get the biggest publicity bang possible by unveiling it at Cannes. Yet some critics figured Sony was trying to fend off bad reviews as long as possible to minimize the impact on what is expected to be a blockbuster debut for the film.
A Beijing audience, meanwhile, saw a screening “The Da Vinci Code” Wednesday — four hours before the Cannes premiere.
Director Howard said final effects shots were only completed in the last 10 days or so, and it was not a movie he had wanted to screen in a rough cut.
“All those things kind of conspired to the late delivery,” Howard said.
With 60 million copies of the novel sold, no amount of bad press is likely to keep the faithful from crowding theaters over opening weekend.
“If you sell a ticket to everyone who bought the book, you make your money back, don’t you?” said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical.
Rocchi was among Cannes critics who grew restless as “The Da Vinci Code” dragged on to two and a half hours, saying, “I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way.”
Reviewers did have kind words for co-star Ian McKellen, who plays an irreverent Grail enthusiast. Critics said McKellen stole the movie, and the British actor also stole the show at the news conference with his co-stars and Howard, delivering a zinger about the possibility Christ had a wife.
“I’m very happy to believe that Jesus was married,” said McKellen, an outspoken defender of gay rights since disclosing his homosexuality in the late 1980s. “And I know the Catholic church has problems with gay people, and I thought this would be absolute proof that Jesus was not gay.”