Botox on the run
Save your shekels this week and don’t bother with ANGELS AND DEMONS.
Major, but pertinent digression: years and years ago this writer decided to begin his college education by studying film at the University of California. The choice of schools was made largely because of the advisory presence there in the Cinema Department of my favorite director, George Cukor. I arrived in Los Angeles from Hawaii, green as a fresh pineapple, only to find the jock-ridden campus located in a ghetto (a shooting murder occurred on Fraternity Row my first year) and the Cinema Department situated in a firetrap which formerly housed the stables for the school’s polo team (as if the immense and expensive edifice housing every USC sports trophy wasn’t bad enough).
I never did get to meet Cukor, unfortunately, but a prominent presence in one of my classes was Ron Howard. “What the hell is Opie doing here?” I cruelly wondered, like any snarky 18-year-old, already dismayed over my hard-working parents’ tuition dollars being frittered. (But what the hell did I know? I wanted to learn how to make my own version of JULES AND JIM and found myself surrounded by Trekkies and sci fi geeks fashioning foam rubber meteors to hurl at their lenses. They all became subsequently rich and successful with the STAR WARS franchises, et al.)
Walking into the screening room where ANGELS AND DEMONS was being shown, all these years later, I wondered the exact same “Opie” thing. I did enjoy Howard’s first film, SPLASH, for its disarming youthful romanticism and equally youthful Tom Hanks and the late John Candy. Since then, he has tackled a bewilderingly diverse array of subject matter – a pity then, that he’s not so much an inspired, versatile studio talent like Michael Curtiz, so much as an adequate hack a la Henry King. What a field day those hard core auteurist/Cahiers du Cinema critics like Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard would have had over this man who has serviceably done everything from Irish period epics to space odysseys to Westerns (the excruciating, noisy THE MISSING) with nothing resembling even a hint of artistic individuality about any of them.
Dan Brown’s books which provided the subjects of this latest film and THE DA VINCI CODE are perfect airplane reads: potboiling, somewhat indifferently scribbled but exhaustively (if sometimes wrongheadedly) researched page turners and, therefore, fit material for a bang-up entertainment. But you want a Scorsese or DePalma who could at least leaven the pulp with some approximation of art or sensuality. Howard, ineffably American, in the old aw-shucks/gee whiz Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra tradition, directs these opuses like a tourist in a very strange land, mouth agape at all this exotic, art-history-and-religion related exoticism like some budget traveler from Midland, TX, on – and I know this is too easy – the Da Vinci Code tour in Paris.
The gowns and accessories were lovely, filled with fashion-forward looks for fall, like cunning capelets and Juliet caps
There are now, evidently, ANGELS AND DEMONS tours in Rome, God help us, and the film feels very much like one of those, except lacking in any attendant authenticity. The Vatican forbade any filming on its premises, so what you get is the Papal City looking as if crafted for Las Vegas, with shiny, indifferently carved sculpture and the Sistine Chapel something out of Disney. Howard populates it with loudly demonstrating pro and anti-stem cell research freaks who clash noisily on the Carrara.
And there’s Tom Hanks, too old for the part, but every bit Howard’s perfect aw-shucks thespian cohort, rapping out arcane historical/religious information and Latin at breakneck speed, and looking just as surprised as we that he knows any of this weird-ass stuff. He’s as about as convincing a serious scholar as Jane Fonda is a musicologist in her Broadway show, 33 VARIATIONS, with her flawless grooming and Armani-esque ensembles.
Howard’s idea of creating suspense is just whipping his camera around Rome as the clock devastatingly ticks away the hours that are left in the imprisoned lives of four Papal candidates, with possible total “anti-matter” destruction of Vatican City imminent, as well. It’s exhausting but never gripping, so uninspired is his direction, which rather takes the whipping-down-hallways technique of THE WEST WING, and couples it with Hans Zimmer’s shriekingly banal shrieking choruses in Latin on the soundtrack.
There are the requisite moments of horror meant to make you gasp in your seat, but the first one, which featured a decomposing monk’s skull made out of obvious rubber with a large rat gnawing the eyesocket, was the kind of risible thing a third grader might draw to shock his teacher on Halloween.
Ayelet Zurer and Botox on the run
The supporting cast doesn’t offer much fun respite from Hanks’ Botoxed faux gravitas: Ayelet Zurer as the obligatory much younger brainy babe sounds like Ingrid Bergman, but has no chance to display anything approaching the womanly radiance of that great star. (Howard is clueless when it comes to women; remember Jennifer Connelly’s old age makeup in A BEAUTIFUL MND?) Ewan McGregor as a high-collared high-ranking very Irish Vatican priest makes like a more buff Barry Fitzgerald. I was dying for him to break into “Too-ra-loo-ra” while fondling some papal treasure.
Ewan McGregor, the new Barry Fitzgerald
Howard and Hanks appeared on the Charlie Rose show and, to his credit, even Howard blanched a little when Rose, as obnoxiously effusive in the presence of Hollywood as ever, referred to him as “one of the world’s greatest storytellers.” I much preferred Hanks’ highly accurate description of his director, which I’m supposing was only meant in the most complimentary way: “Ron is a directing machine, like a Univac 305.”
The Univac – does this look like Ron Howard?
Dan Brown wasn’t on the show because he’s deep in research for his next opus in Washington, D.C. Hanks joked about it being about a D.A.R. conspiracy this time around – I hope he didn’t give anything away.
All together, now, can we spell