Gripping or Dull? Take Your Pick

Times Staff Writer

Arriving in Cannes for the festival's opening night cloaked in a shroud of secrecy wrapped as tight as that of the sinisterly depicted monk of Opus Dei, "The Da Vinci Code" drew reactions that varied from "largely negative" punctuated by unintentional laughter to gushy praise tempered by observations that it was more than a little dull.

"An improvement ... on the tattier construction of the book," and "surprisingly reverent," were among the reactions at a London preview Tuesday night. As for the sinister depiction of Opus Dei, the order's Jack Valero found it "gruesome to see my brothers and sisters represented in a way that has no relation to reality," and "incredibly dull." Most in the audience at London's Empire theater in Leicester Square, however, according to Times of London religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill, "were gripped."

At a pre-opening press screening Tuesday in Cannes, Reuters reported, reaction "was largely negative, with loud laughter breaking out at one of the pivotal scenes."

"Nothing really works. It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun," said Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald. "... And you're conscious of how hard everybody's working to try to make sense of something that basically perhaps is unfilmable."

In one of the earliest U.S. reports, Fox News' Roger Friedman laid most of the blame for Da Vinci Code's problems (among them, an overly long, sometimes lazy script) at the feet of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, but overall scored it as "solid entertainment with much to recommend it."

Among those highlights: The scene-stealing Sir Ian McKellen ... and director Ron Howard's ability to keep the suspense going even when everyone (as in everyone in the world has already read this book) knows where it's heading. The upshot: "Mainstream audiences will take this for what it is: superb escapism, excellent summer entertainment and ambitious filmmaking."

Then there was the decidedly less assessment from Variety critic Todd McCarthy, who wrote that the phenomenally popular "pulpy page-turner" has devolved into a "stodgy, grim thing."

More favorably disposed James Christopher of the Times of London described Howard's film as "rip-roaring" entertainment, with locations that were terrific, but found lengthy "exposition ... frankly stifling. Any thriller that can throw up the line, 'I have to get to a library fast,' is in dire need of medical attention. To his eternal credit, Howard illuminates entire chapters by making them look like supper time at Hogwarts."

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