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Fallen angels

Angels & Demons

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Angels & Demons (PG-13)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
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Look, just because the pope's coffin gets pried open to reveal his hideously swollen lolling tongue, and one cardinal's decomposing face gets gnawed on by rats, and another's punctured lungs spew geysers of blood, and another gets strung up and burned alive, and another is saddled with weights and tossed into a fountain to drown, and then a bit of devious political corruption gets stirred in, that doesn't make Angels & Demons anti-Catholic.

If anything, Ron Howard's movie of Dan Brown's book makes Catholicism seem fun! Seriously. A splash of cheap theatrical spectacle, escapist B-movie ponderousness, horror-flick shock tactics, and of course silly costumes (for old times' sake) might be just the kick-in-the-vestments PR push this institution needs. Forget opiates of the masses. Try amphetamines!

Here's how it rolls. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) finds himself whisked to Vatican City, where a murderous, scientifically threatening, religiously confounding conspiracy is afoot. This is quite handy for Langdon, actually; he can't finish the book he's been working on without access to the Vatican archives — access that until now has not been granted, because, let's just say, there was some unpleasantness. (For reference, if not for pleasure, consult Ron Howard's earlier film of Dan Brown's other bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.)

Anyway, the pope has rather suddenly died, and four of the cardinals most likely to replace him — known collectively as the preferiti — have been kidnapped. No ransom will be sufficient for their return, but how about some overdue props for the church's ancient rival, a science-minded, secret, and now highly psychopathic brotherhood known as the Illuminati? Their plan for the evening is to kill one of these cardinals every hour, and then use some anti-matter stolen from a Geneva supercollider to blow up the Vatican at midnight.

Ambitious, is it not? You can forgive these Illuminati boys for being so proud of their plan that they just can't resist leaving a trail of ancient symbols and codes for Langdon to follow in order to defeat it.

And the code-breaking comes easily to him, of course. It's the whole working with people thing that really confounds Langdon. These challenges include, but are not limited to, Ayelet Zurer as an attractive but romantically neutral Italian particle physicist; Stellan Skarsgard as the officious head of the Swiss Guard; Armin Mueller-Stahl as a dodgy old cardinal; Nikolaj Lie Kaas as a ruthless assassin; and Ewan McGregor as the church camerlengo.

Yes, that is correct: Even in the midst of a deeply unsettling crisis, the affairs of the Catholic Church, when between popes, will be fully entrusted to Renton from Trainspotting. Or, if you prefer, young Obi-Wan Kenobi. See, that's not so church-bashing bad, is it?

Well, you'll see. The scavenger-hunt-against-the-clock proceeds swiftly and ludicrously, with Hanks and Co. scampering around from crypt to archive to piazza to chapel; screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman sprinkling in laughable expository exchanges of dialogue; and Howard meting out preferiti punishments, plus other perversely popcorn-munchable thrills. And just wait till you get an earful of all that overcooked choral music in Hans Zimmer's profanely earnest schlocky soundtrack!

It's all trash, in case you couldn't guess. But blasphemy? Hell no.

scene@csindy.com

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Angels & Demons

Official Site: www.angelsanddemons.com

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Akiva Goldsman and Dan Brown

Producer: Brian Grazer

Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi and Cosimo Fusco

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