MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The movie The Da Vinci Code is about a secret that threatens the very foundations of Christianity, a secret you've probably heard all about, but that Bob Mondello will nonetheless keep under wraps in his review.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, is an expert on symbols, a symbologist if you will, who is lecturing in Paris when the police contact him about a murder. A curator at the Louvre has been found on the floor of the main art gallery, his body positioned in a way that is clearly meant to send a message.

(Soundbite of The Da Vinci Code)

Mr. TOM HANKS (as Robert Langdon): The Vitruvian Man. It's one of Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous sketches.

Mr. JEAN RENO (as Captain Fache): And the star on his skin?

Mr. HANKS: Pentacle.

Mr. RENO: And its meaning?

Mr. HANKS: The pentacle is a pagan religious icon.

MONDELLO: An icon representing the female half of everything and right on cue, there's the female half of the story, Sophie. Not a symbologist, a cryptologist, a code decipherer who can spot an anagram at 50 paces, which comes in handy as they go on what amounts to a scavenger hunt, trying to unravel not just a murder mystery, but what turns out to be the holy grail of biblical mysteries.

Feeling that they are out of their depth, they turn to, who else, an eccentric British knight, played by a pixyish Ian McKellen. He too traces things back to Da Vinci, this time his Last Supper, a painting so familiar he ask Sophie to close her eyes and describe its details to him.

(Soundbite of The Da Vinci Code)

Mr. IAN MCKELLEN (as Sir Leigh Teabing): How many wine glasses are on the table?

Ms. AUDREY TAUTOU (as Sophie Neveu): One? The holy grail?

Mr. MCKELLEN: Open your eyes. A single cup. No chalice. Well that's a big strange, isn't it? Considering both the Bible and standard Grail legend celebrate this moment as the definitive arrival of the holy grail. Hmm.

MONDELLO: Hmm, indeed. Now a number of controversies have attached themselves to The Da Vinci Code, among them whether it's secret is at root blasphemous, whether it's story is anti-Catholic and even whether it reinforces unfair stereotypes about albinos, though I'm not sure which stereotypes the crazed, self-flagellating assassin albino monk Silas could be said to reinforce.

Tom Hanks has been trying to diffuse all of this in interviews by noting that the story is “loaded with hooey,” which I'd say about gets it right. The question is why it isn't more robust, invigorating hooey. The film, like the novel, is basically a series of long, complicated conversations that are not made any less long or complicated by being intoned urgently at high speeds on highways.

Director Ron Howard seems to have realized that he could bring a visual clarity to the book's chatter about anagrams and cryptex's just as he did to the mathematics in A Beautiful Mind. So there are flashbacks to the Middle Ages and letters and paintings rearranging themselves digitally, but the problem with making things clear this time is that the story is sort of lame when it's clear.

On the page, mixed in with Dan Brown's clumsy, travel guide descriptions of European tourist spots, the twists have a certain mystery to them. Streamlined for the screen they fall pretty neatly into movie conventions so by the end of the first hour, even folks who haven't read the book will know basically where everything's headed, which leaves another hour and a half of waiting for the characters to catch up.

Or I suppose you could use the time to play with anagrams on your own. The title The Da Vinci Code seems a likely treasure trove with all those vowels. One thing it yields when rearranged is Catch da Video, admittedly by misspelling that middle word and with a couple of letters left over. Okay, that's a stretch, but then, so is the movie.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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