— On the first day of her Pathology class in medical school in the ’70s, my sister’s professor asked, “OK, how many of you have watched that show ‘Quincy’ on TV? Great. Forget everything you ever saw on it.” He then went on to explain that the beloved small-screen medical examiner did a lot of assuming and jumping to conclusions, and that while it was entertaining to watch Jack Klugman do his thing, the show had no resemblance to the real-life area of study.
Would-be academics and sleuths should be similarly warned about “Angels & Demons,” in which Tom Hanks reprises his role as symbology expert Robert Langdon from “The Da Vinci Code.” Apart from one dead-end early on, all of his hunches turn out to be correct and all of his clues are plucked out of thin air from the briefest of conversations.
Still, even if the whodunit aspect of “Angels” would barely pass muster on “Scooby-Doo,” this Ron Howard–directed sequel is less howlingly moronic than its predecessor. If you loved “Code,” granted, this movie will be right up your alley; for those not already smitten with these big-screen adaptations of the Dan Brown pseudo-historical potboilers, this new movie won’t bring you around.
The film begins with the death of the sitting pope and the hullabaloo surrounding the election of his successor. While St. Peter’s Square fills up with the faithful, shady doings are afoot. An experimental sample of “anti-matter” is stolen from a Swiss lab, where a Catholic priest working on its creation is brutally murdered.
Soon thereafter, four cardinals who are considered to be top candidates to fill the Shoes of the Fisherman are kidnapped by terrorists claiming to be the Illuminati, a centuries-old organization of free-thinkers who fought the Vatican over the church’s quashing of scientific exploration. The bad guys threaten not only to kill the cardinals but also to use the anti-matter to blow the entire Vatican City itself to Kingdom Come.
Langdon is called in — despite his “earlier activities,” which means this movie is a sequel to “Code” even though the novel is a prequel — and he immediately starts following the clues that the kidnappers have so thoughtfully provided. (Seriously, their video is so loaded with hints you would think it was something the Riddler sent to Batman.)
Hanks’ Langdon comes off as something of an irritating know-it-all; he’s always correcting the Vatican history spouted by others or one-upping them with his superior knowledge. It’s a performance that demonstrates what an insufferable adult young detective Encyclopedia Brown must have become.
Where “Angels” soars is in its attention to detail; Howard obviously enjoys lingering over the pageantry and tradition of the Vatican, with shots of the ceremonial hammer and chisel used to destroy the papal ring of the deceased pontiff to the powders that make the famous white or black chimney smoke during the election process.
I will admit that that David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman’s script did toss me a few curves that I didn’t see coming, and the international cast (including Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ayelet Zurer) sinks their collective teeth into this Hollywood silliness with relish. But between the excess of “Aha!” moments and the laborious set-up for Langdon’s attempted death-trap — the script hints at it a good three times, just in case we didn’t see it coming — “Angels & Demons” doesn’t deserve a kiss on the ring.