Ron Howard and sheer stupidity go well together, as shown by both of his adaptations of Dan Brown’s popular Robert Langdon novels. This prequel to The Da Vinci Code trades in exposition-heavy machinations for a more action-packed scenario, but it hardly matters whether Harvard symbologist Langdon (Hanks) is waxing philosophic or racing against the clock. He and the world he inhabits are always set to “fever pitch.”
Angels moves like a mofo, propelled by Hans Zimmer’s relentless score and Hanks’s easy way with pseudointellectual pitter-patter. Like a gallivanting set of CliffsNotes, Langdon tears around Vatican City and its surroundings, searching for four kidnapped cardinals and an “antimatter” bomb while simultaneously offering snack-time discourses on history, philosophy, art and religion. Come the finale, we might all think ourselves experts on the Illuminati, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the chances of survival when parachuting from a rapidly ascending helicopter into Saint Peter’s Square (0 percent, unless your name is Ewan McGregor).
How dark the con of Ron that he can so vividly simulate thought in what is truly an intellect-free enterprise. No number of quizzically furrowed brows, solemn proclamations of faith or brawling stem-cell protestors can cloak Angels & Demons’s summertime superficiality. It’s simple pleasures all around, from the Vatican archives that resemble a James Bond supervillain lair to a purely platonic sexy-scientist sidekick (Zurer) in high-heels-sprinting, Dana Scully mode. And hosanna in excelsis to the devilish genius who cast Armin Mueller-Stahl as a kindhearted conduit to secular-spiritual dtente.—Keith Uhlich