Monday, May 18, 2009

There's No Place Like Rome

Angels and Demons is a dumb movie about smart people. I like movies about smart people. We don't get enough of those. Usually movies are about big, dumb heroes fighting ingenious villains and saving the day by performing feats that violate the rules of reality (outrunning a fireball is a classic example). A&D, at first, seems like it's going to be a smart movie. It opens in Rome shortly after the death of the Pope and then cuts to the Hadron Super Collider in Geneva. All the scientists there are excited because they're about of generate a large amount of antimatter. Why are they doing that? Well, what the hell else do you do when you have a super collider? It's like having a deep fryer and not deep frying anything. Anyway, I normally wouldn't think of a scientific facility like this as a high crime area but I guess I would be wrong since one of their scientists is killed in a particularly gruesome way and the antimatter is stolen.

We cut to Harvard where Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), fresh from shaking the very tenets of Christian belief in The DaVinci Code, is asked by a Vatican official to help solve the kidnapping of four Cardinals who are basically the first round draft picks to be the next Pope. He's being asked because the kidnappers claim to be members of the Illuminati, one of those mythical groups about which your conspiracy-theory loving friend is always emailing you. Supposedly they were a group of smart guys in the 17th century who were persecuted by the Catholic Church and now they want revenge. They say they'll kill one Cardinal per hour and then use the antimatter they stole from Geneva to cause a catastrophic explosion*. Langdon once wrote a scholarly text about the Illuminati so they jet him off to Rome to do what the finest criminal minds in Italy cannot.

Tom Hanks manages to make Robert Langdon's historical ramblings interesting even if I have no idea how much of them are true. He's convincing enough that Vatican officials, even the total A-Hole Chief of the Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan SkarsgÄrd) who is openly hostile toward him, allow him access to an invaluable text written by Galileo that possesses some hidden Illuminati thing. The pamphlet, an item of incalculable value, promptly gets a page ripped out of it by physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a woman who's annoyed that someone stole her antimatter, because it has a poem that may help them figure out the plans of the Illuminati and, even though she and Langdon are both technologically equipped geniuses, neither one thought to bring a cell phone with a camera in it.

The movie then becomes a series of chase scenes. Langdon's greatest power is to figure out where the cardinals are going to be killed and then arrive there five minutes too late to save them. This doesn't shake the confidence that his chief Vatican ally, Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) has in him which is why McKenna keeps granting Langdon access to the Catholic Church's most sacred artifacts despite the fact that Langdon keeps destroying them.

You figure that someone in the cast must be a traitor. Is it the A-Hole security chief? The A-Hole Cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl)? The other A-Hole Cardinal (Cosimo Fusco)? The nice Father McKenna who seems too handsome to be a villain but hey, who knows? It becomes obvious after a bit which only adds to the movie's dumbness.

Angels and Demons really annoyed me because it started off well and then got stupid. There I was, sitting in that theater thinking I was going to see a good movie only to watch it slide into the abyss. I did like the fact that some of it was actually shot in Rome. There's nothing like seeing real people doing real things in real places rather than having an entire location that exists only in some guy's Macintosh. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make me recommend the movie.

*Physicists are claiming this wouldn't happen. All I know about antimatter is that, when used with dilithium crystals, it can power a starship so, for the sake of the story, I'm going to take the movie at its word that the laws of physics are actually the loosely enforced guidelines of physics and that simply exposing antimatter to matter would be sufficient to blow up Vatican City.

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