Angels & Demons Speeds Down the Track Laid by The Da Vinci Code

Looks like Armin Mueller-Stahl (third from right) needs to lay off the bean burritos at the Vatican cafeteria, if you know what we mean.

At the end of The Da Vinci Code, having traipsed around Paris and London for more than two hours to find out whether the Holy Grail was just an old cup or the womanly seed of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Tom Hanks' Robert Langdon, ace symbologist, headed back to Harvard, though not before wishing the womanly seed (a wan Audrey Tautou) "Godspeed"—a strange farewell coming from an avowed agnostic, but excellent advice for part deux of the Dan Brown franchise, which has roughly the same amount of God, but a lot more speed than its predecessor.

Angels & Demons is still no more than another treat for whacked-out male conspiracy theorists, mind you, and at 138 minutes, it's a scant 10 minutes shorter than The Da Vinci Code. But the movie clips along, tricked out with state-of-the-art hardware and a hotter, brighter partner for Hanks in the race against serial prelate-murder by yet another ancient secret society with evil designs on the Vatican. As the enchantingly alliterative particle physicist Dr. Vittoria Vetra, Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer furrows her brow and wrings her hands over the catastrophic danger posed to the Holy See by a stolen canister of something nuclear.

And that's just the half of it. The incumbent Pope has died, and four of the extremely red cardinals most likely to succeed him have been abducted for medieval branding and/or burning by a wild-eyed predator named "The Assassin" (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). His rimless glasses bespeak a man of intellect, and Langdon, tossing off deconstructed signifiers like Roland Barthes on steroids, strongly suspects him of membership in the Illuminati, a secret society whose fondness for science has drawn the ire of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years.


Angels rd, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ayelet Zurer. Opens Friday.

Once again, there's much desperate racing through the underground tunnels of Rome's lovelier churches

Gift-wrapped in production design lifted from The Godfather and a score by Hans Zimmer that sounds like the rumbling tummies of a thousand underfed monks, Angels is studded with capably brutal set pieces building to an impressive, if ineffably silly, bit of business involving a helicopter, a parachute and a huge crowd fighting over stem cell research in St. Peter's Square.

But what of the life of the spirit? Will science trump belief, or will the two lie down together like lambs? There's no place for anything so retro as character development in the Brown universe—either you're an angel masquerading as a demon, or the other way around. When they're not getting spectacularly knocked off, just about every salient player waves at the audience to hint that he might be the lone rotten apple in Catholicism's otherwise sound barrel.

Brushing away accusations of factual accuracy in an interview with Britain's Radio Times, Hanks gave the movie its most succinct review: "It's not important, but it's fun."

Angels & Demons

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