With all the controversy surrounding the release of The Da Vinci Code, by now the movie itself is almost beside the point. Certainly none of the film's most vocal critics, who believe that it makes dangerous assertions about the Catholic Church and encourages intolerance, will bother to see it. Which is too bad, because screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and director Ron Howard go out of their way to deflect potential criticism by embracing faith in an explicit way, tempering their criticisms of the church with reassurances that any alleged conspiracy is the product of only a small number of corrupt individuals.
But this film, and the wildly successful novel upon which it's based, isn't really about religious critique. It's a thriller, and the failure of both Dan Brown's book and Howard's film is not one of scholarship, but rather one of storytelling. You might learn some (admittedly dubious) history from Da Vinci, but it comes at the expense of rich characters and an exciting narrative.
The film begins with a lecture by Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, coasting), and he doesn't stop lecturing until the end credits roll. When Jacques Sauniere, the renowned curator of the Louvre, is murdered, Langdon is called in for his expertise in symbology, to interpret a cryptic message Sauniere left behind. He's soon on the run, though, allied only with a young cryptologist named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou).
As Robert and Sophie flee the police and a shadowy secret organization, they discover that Sauniere was part of a group involved in what fellow academic Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) calls "the greatest cover-up in human history."
It all sounds rather exciting, but Howard, robbed of Brown's luxury of long digressions about etymology and historical minutiae, doesn't know how to balance the extensive lessons with the meager action. Every time Langdon starts to educate Sophie, the urge to tune out is overwhelming, and even with visual aids, the informational asides are uninteresting and, worse yet, not nearly as informative as those in the book.
Anyone who hasn't read Brown's novel will probably be confused about the convoluted historical conspiracy, and anyone who has will be equally bored, since Goldsman and Howard add nothing new to Brown's plot. All they manage to do is highlight the book's weaknesses, making the film neither a worthy adaptation nor a successful stand-alone product.