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Hollywood Product: Angels & Demons

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GENRE: Scavenger hunt disguised as a Hollywood thriller

THE PITCH:
In Rome, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and young physicist Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) race the clock during a papal election, a hostage crisis, and the countdown until a stolen speck of antimatter could wipe out Vatican City.

MONEY SHOTS: A tracking shot inside the Large Hadron Collider echoes one of those zippy through-the-engine shots from The Fast and the Furious. To escape a death trap, Langdon tips a huge bookcase against a shatterproof glass wall like Indiana Jones, with amusingly anticlimactic results. A big scene near the finish involves St. Peter's Square, a sci-fi explosion, and an unintentionally humorous parachute mishap.

BEST LINE: "Ah, Professor Langdon. What a relief — the symbologist is here," sneers the Swiss Guard commander (Stellan Skarsgård).

WORST LINE: "The Illuminati are penetrators!" Robert declares in one of his many, many lectures on the fly about statues, architecture, and the ancient scientists-turned-schemers.

BODY COUNT: About 15, with several elaborate murder plots involving the four elements (earth, air, fire and water). For a PG-13 Ron Howard movie, it features surprisingly many gross-outs, including a stray eyeball, a discolored, two-week-old body, and rats gnawing at the face of a fresher one. In an icky bit of near slapstick, Vittoria gives artificial respiration to a wounded man, and blood from the punctured lung sprays Robert's face.

FASHION STATEMENTS: Hanks eschews the longer haircut from Code for one that's shorter and more typical of him. Phew! He also wears a diminutive bathing suit in his first scene. The film features more red cardinal vestments than the average Omen movie. Some of the Swiss guardsmen wear morion helmets like conquistadors or liquor bottle mascots.

CONTROVERSY: The Vatican condemned The Da Vinci Code's intimations of ancient church cover-ups, and director Howard accused the Vatican of opposing the film's production in Rome. Although Angels & Demons evokes the Catholic Church's history of suppressing scientific advancement, it's generally more protective of Catholicism than critical of it. Plus, Ewan McGregor gives a rousing speech in favor of religion.

BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS ONE? Not up to Code. If no classic, the previous film featured an intriguing, gossipy account of religious and historical secrets hung on a manhunt drama. Angels & Demons features less-compelling clues and conspiracies, but a far more contrived suspense plot. Incidentally, author Dan Brown wrote Angels & Demons first, and Howard presents the new movie as a follow-up to The Da Vinci Code.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Who would guess that Angels & Demons would have more corpses than Wolverine and more technobabble than Star Trek? It's hard to get the sense that Hanks, Howard or anyone else involved in the production felt passionately about the material, except maybe for the set designers and art directors. Angels & Demons feels both arduous and inconsequential, but visitors to Italy may find the film invaluable as sort of the "Tom Hanks Antimatter Walking Tour of Rome."

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