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Noise, Color And Lots of Blood

What do you want from a big-budget thriller? If it’s a plot that makes sense,  heart-pounding suspense and a main character with interesting quirks and shading, then you can safely skip “Angels and Demons,” the latest offering from the Dan Brown/Ron Howard money machine.

But there are other pleasures to be had — sumptuous scenery (mostly fake), the illusion that you are learning arcane historical and cultural lore and the pleasure of watching favorite character actors put on stately robes and look very, very serious.These “Angels and Demons” provides in reasonable measure.

Actually written before “The Da Vinci Code,”  “Angels and Demons” is filmed as a sequel. Here, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon’s international fame leads the Vatican to track him down for help when four of the “preferati,” the cardinals considered to be most likely to succeed the recently deceased pope, have been kidnapped.

The abductors have left clues suggesting they belong to the secret and ancient Illuminati, a sect long-suppressed by the church because of its devotion to science. 

At the same time, a vial of antimatter has been stolen from the laboratory at Cern.  Langdon (played, blandly, by Tom Hanks) quickly deduces that the antimatter is hidden in Vatican City, which is set to blow up and take the Vatican and half of Rome with it by midnight. Assisted by Italian physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Langdon must convince the guardians of the Vatican’s innermost secrets to give him access to the very books they’ve long withheld, in order to crack the case.

Does it matter that there’s nothing original? Not really. It’s fast-paced, not too long and reasonably entertaining, except for one central problem: You never believe that antimatter is going to explode and destroy all of Vatican City. The only suspense is in how much grim violence the audience must stomach before the hero solves the puzzle.

To do so, Langdon has to follow a series of clues across the city to figure out where the Illuminati has hidden the antimatter. One kidnapped cardinal will be sacrificed, gruesomely, each hour on the hour, each at a different church.  Langdon calls on his deep knowledge of obscure ancient symbols. He is assisted by the young and idealistic guardian of the Vatican, the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) who gives him access to the library and urges the cardinals to open their minds to science. Because that’s the point. It’s science versus church, and the movie makes the apparently controversial case that the church can be good and science is nice too.

You can busy yourself admiring the parade of bright red cardinals’ robes and miters, the soaring ceilings of the Sistine Chapel (recreated in CGI as filming there was forbidden) and enjoying the way McGregor’s long black robes swish around him as he strides through grand halls. Noise, color and lots of blood. Apparently that’s all we can expect from mainstream movies anymore, and this movie delivers.

“Angels and Demons” is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and thematic material. It is playing everywhere.

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