Adventures in Rome
Hanks takes on Illuminati in 'Angels & Demons'

Angels & Deamons (PG-13)

Two stars out of four

Before he became stinking rich by penning the best-selling adult hardback novel of all-time ("The Da Vinci Code"), writer Dan Brown found more modest success with "Angels & Demons."

Though far from what anyone would call a literary visionary, Brown is keenly aware that controversial books always outsell those of lasting quality. In all fairness, the basic concepts for these novels are ingeniously fascinating; it's in the execution where Brown stumbles. Always using gallons of words where mere tablespoons would suffice, Brown is good at thickly laying on the superfluous subterfuge, something most casual readers fail or don't choose to notice.

Wanting to strike while the "Da Vinci" iron was hot, director Ron Howard wasted no time in acquiring the rights to the book and released the film in record time to mixed reviews and a huge worldwide box-office take.

With "Angels & Demons" Howard had the luxury of more production time but was working with far less familiar source material. In addition, Sony is now marketing a noticeably inferior movie to an audience whose interest has almost assuredly piqued. It shouldn't come as a surprise if "Angels & Demons" winds up underperforming.

The movie bursts out of the starting gate and establishes a brisk pace that never lets up. The plot holes are many and the unintended humor frequent, but it is a good 30 minutes shorter than its predecessor, which often crept along at a snail's pace. An opening scene set in a high-tech Swiss lab and one toward the end taking place in St. Peter's Square feature the kind of whiz-bang CGI effects usually reserved for high-strung sci-fi adventures and seem out of place and overreaching here.

With a pitch-black mane and far too much makeup, an older Tom Hanks plays a younger version of Robert Langdon, a noted Harvard symbologist called on by Vatican authorities to help stop a series of murders about to take place in one-hour long increments on a single night.

The target victims are four members of the Cardinal College, those charged with electing the Pope. The unknown culprit has indicated the deaths will have something to do with the "Illuminati," a science-based faction that dared to challenge the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines centuries earlier and paid a heavy price by doing so.

Howard's longtime collaborator Avika Goldsman and co-writer David Koepp present two viable conspirators early on and regularly toss in reinforcing tidbits further implicating them along the way as any good mystery thriller should.

It is with an out-of-the-blue suggestion of another possible villain in the 11th hour that the screenwriters commit their most egregious and frustrating storytelling blunder. Sending the audience down the wrong path is fine, as long as you play fair. Not including a single hint of the identity of the true villain at some point along the way is unacceptable.

Before production on the film finished, rumors of a third adaptation of a Brown novel featuring the Langdon character leaked. Before Sony or anyone else gives a green light to the "The Lost Symbol" (which will be released in book form this September), they might want to wait until next Monday when the opening weekend receipts are released. (Sony/Columbia)