I can't decide what's more thrilling: Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" or the acidic controversy that surrounds it.
The subject boils atop the covers of newspapers and magazines. It echoes through households and churches, workplaces and coffee houses. To see it or not to see it? That is the question.
Those of you who read the book needn't find this question challenging, for the only thing concerning you is whether or not the film lives up to its bestselling source. The answer is yes - if you liked the book, you will probably like the movie.
But many conservative Christians who opted against reading the book have placed their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouths for fear that the story's purportedly anti-Christian fodder will penetrate their devout, doctrine-heeding psyches.
Indeed, the idea that Jesus had a sex life is a tough pill to swallow for a body of people who have structured their belief system around Biblical dogma. But see the movie, if not to ogle Tom Hanks' much-hyped new ‘do, then to see what all the fuss is about.
When the film begins, Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle) is scuttling through the darkened halls of the Paris art museum - he is running for his life. A robed albino monk (Paul Bettany) firmly pursues him as Sauniere frantically pulls a painting on top of himself to activate the museum alarm.
But it's too late. "You and your brethren possess something that is not yours," the monk growls, as he aims the gun at Sauniere's stomach. Pow! In the last moments of his life, the curator must find a way to ensure that his secrets do not die with him - but they cannot be revealed to just anyone. Sauniere uses his own corpse and a series of symbols and puzzles to ensure that only the "worthy" may unlock his secret.
And by "worthy" he means his granddaughter, police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), and renowned symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks). Together, the pair must dodge the albino church fanatic and French investigator Capt. Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) - who believes Langdon is Sauniere's assassin - as they desperately seek out and attempt to solve the series of clues before them. What they find could debunk the entire Western Christian orthodoxy and forever change a longstanding and pervasive system of beliefs.
"Da Vinci" is a fast-paced, chill-inducing thrill ride that will make even the biggest skeptic's teeth chatter. But what haste does for the movie also works against it. Part of the brilliance of Brown's narrative style is his ability to generate suspense by withholding the point, while keeping the adrenaline pumping.
The film's plot oftentimes seems a bit rushed and the provocative revelations that made the book so riveting are condensed and spoon-fed to the audience.
Scenes that, in the book, were otherwise slow enough to bring sweat beads to the brow moved at an overly speedy pace, no human being, whether Harvard professor or brilliant cryptologist, could solve those puzzles in less than a minute.
In the book the treasure hunt and the stunning explanation scene at Grail-obsessed mogul Leigh Teabing's (Ian McKellan) house are far more complex, but due to time constraints director Ron Howard decided to hack a large chunk of lag time off in favor of chase scenes and gun fights - I would have preferred more lag time.
Hanks and Tatou give convincing performances as the handsome scholar with the quasi-mullet and the lovely Frenchwoman with the often-indecipherable accent. But don't expect to see either of them giving a long, tearful speech at the Oscars anytime soon.
McKellan, with his jolly British intonation and snarky demeanor, livens up the screen as the crazy cripple Teabing. He managed to steal a few laughs, which offered a refreshing, but short-lived break from the action.
If you wish to emerge from this film a satisfied customer, take it for what it as is: a pulse-quickening murder mystery/suspense thriller. Leave your judgments at the popcorn stand.
Whether you are for or against Dan Brown's theory, it is important to remember that it is nonetheless just a theory. In the end, as Langdon says, "What matters is what you believe."