Angels and Demons, Salsa And Chips

Angels and Demons
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan MacGregor
Directed by: Rom Howard, 2009

(Warning; May contain spoilers)

Oh, no! A [a) terrorist; b) disgruntled ex-employee; c) fanatic] has stolen a [a:) nuclear warhead; b) deadly neurotoxin; c:)canister of anti-matter] from [a) Starbuck’s; b) a secret government lab; c) the CERN Large Hadron Collider]. He plans to [a)kill everyone at the Superbowl; b) release it into New York City’s water supply; c) destroy Vatican City]. Only a [a) disgraced ex-cop; b) jaded science geek; c) sarcastic academic nerd] can decipher the [a) last cell phone call; b) fifty-year-old blueprints; c) cryptic archival documents and arcane symbols] within the next [a) twenty-four; b) two; c) five] hours. The villain turns out to be [a) the person you least suspected; b) the hottie in the red convertible; c) the person you knew you were supposed to least suspect, so you immediately suspected them].

If you answered C to all of these, you don’t have to watch Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

You might want to watch it anyway though. Here’s why.

My friends Greg and Mary introduced me to the concept of watching bad movies, not as a waste of time, but as sport. They used to host bad-movie parties. Angels and Demons almost—almost—makes it as a beautiful, big-budget, blow-out, wrap-it-up-in-a-velvet-ribbon Bad Movie. It falls short because it’s too pretty and the story is too somber, as if the movie’s hijinks really have something important to say about science and religion, courage and faith.

But it’s so very close!

The movie is gorgeous, with glorious exteriors that look like they really are Rome, (the royal palace at Caserta acted as stand-in for the Vatican), and exquisite sets full of marble columns and floors, replicas of famous artwork, and lush color, like the line of cardinals in their reds filing up to be locked in the Sistine Chapel for the Conclave. Each frame has deep shadows and rich “magical hour” lighting. The action sequences are good. There’s a great, suspenseful scene in a Roman fountain, and I think maybe the scenes set at the particle accelerator were really filmed there.

Tom Hanks is good, of course, although Robert Langdon isn’t the most demanding character he’s ever played. It’s, basically, academic and perceptive, academic and sarcastic, academic and irritated, just irritated, and angry. All the other actors do great jobs too, but for Hanks this has got to be practically a paid vacation.

The plot is a trifecta; preposterous, implausible and yet predictable. How predictable? I’ll show you. Four cardinals have been abducted from the Vatican. One will be killed each hour. Quick—how many cardinals will Robert Langdon be too late to save? That’s right. Three. It’s that predictable. Here’s another one. The Vatican archives have airtight low-oxygen reading chambers walled with bullet-proof glass. Quick—what’s going to happen?

There’s a woman. Her name is Vittoria. She wears black slacks and a black pullover. At the end she gets to wear a black dress. She explains about anti-matter and “the God Particle,” and translates some Latin for Langdon—even though she’s a physicist. She defaces a book, and from then on she might as well be the dead Pontiff’s pet cat for all the forward motion she gives the plot.

Oh, and remind me later to talk about PG-13 versus R ratings.

What did I like? As I said, the action sequences, even when stupid (“Quick, let’s split up!”) were well done. The single biggest fun–even though I’m sure it’s inaccurate–was the imagining of the Vatican archives. It was awesome. I could have watched six or seven more scenes set there.

A&D is really pretty and it tries really, really hard, so I give it honorary Bad Movie status. A few months from now, when you’re buying salsa and chips for your A&D Bad Movie Day, here are some things to keep in mind to get the ball rolling:

The branding irons. They’ve in English!

The whole helicopter scene.

“Illuminatus! Illuminatus!”


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