A long, mad, predictable dash through Rome

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have Tom Hanks give you a history lesson while climbing up and down every staircase in Rome?

Well, you'll get your chance to experience it in "Angels & Demons," you lucky so-and-so!

Hanks and "Frost/Nixon" director Ron Howard (last seen amusingly sipping Cristal in Jamie Foxx's "Blame It" video) team up again to bring another Dan Brown novel to the big screen, just as they did in 2006 with the money-making, yet universally loathed "The Da Vinci Code."

Technically, "Angels" is a prequel to "Da Vinci," because "Angels" was released three years before "Da Vinci." This would explain why Hanks' hair is a lot more manageable this time around. (One person I know recently admitted not liking "Da Vinci" mostly because Hanks' hair looked so "gross.")

Anyway, Hanks reprises his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, called on by the Roman police to help investigate the disappearance of four cardinals who are candidates to be pope. This seems to be the work of the Illuminati, the long-defunct secret society of artists, professors and intellectuals who historically butted heads with the Catholic Church over its faith-based theories.

If it is the Illuminati, its members apparently mean business, because they plan to kill off a cardinal every hour on the hour. They also have a tube of stolen, destructive antimatter they are preparing to blast Vatican City with during the papal conclave. Langdon races against time, searching for both the cardinals and the anti-matter, along the way hipping everyone within earshot to the origins of the Illuminati and why some statues in the Vatican have no genitals.

The movie appears to be a hyperaccelerated do-over of "Da Vinci," with Hanks running around with another hot European chick (this time, it's Ayelet Zurer, adorably miscast as an Italian scientist), looking for the truth while dealing with shifty antagonists and dangerous, unhinged servants of God. But because the movie clocks in at 2 hours and some change (just like "Da Vinci"), it's certainly not as fast-paced and energetic as it claims. The last, predictably twisty 40 minutes or so drag on to the point where any good will you may have had toward the movie is slowly diminished.

The fact that "Angels" stays on the screen longer than it should (heck, some of you may feel the movie shouldn't be on the screen in the first place!) is another indication of the movie being an exercise in brazen stubbornness. The movie is supposed to raise discussion with the science-versus-religion debate that's at its core, mostly brought on by Ewan McGregor, adorably miscast as an idealistic papal chamberlain. But Howard and professional blockbuster screenwriters Akiva Goldsman (who scripted "Da Vinci") and David Koepp pepper the story with a persistent narrow-mindedness that just makes the movie unattractive. Even some of the characters, including Stellan Skarsgard as the grouchy Swiss Guard commandant and Armin-Mueller Stahl as a bitter, senior cardinal, are just seen as cantankerous, bull-headed cranks, smugly skeptical of the slightest bit of enlightening info that comes their way.

But "Angels" is so confident in dispensing its factoids and conspiracy-minded mumbo-jumbo that audiences might think they're being hipped to some mind-blowing stuff. Of course, when you have an actor as authoritative as Hanks (sadly, slipping in fleeting moments of Hanks-ian wittiness whenever he can) reciting these things all through the movie, you would think you were getting the word of God, too.

Instead, what you're getting is another highly questionable, allegedly controversial, so-called thriller from Opie Cunningham that is supposedly hitting you with The Truth. But The Truth is that "Angels & Demons" gives you a battle between good and evil the only way a summer blockbuster possibly can: expensively and pointlessly.

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