The Da Vinci Code, which opens in North American theaters on Friday, debuted Tuesday at a press screening at the Cannes Film Festival in front of some of the world's toughest critics.
The immediate verdict: "Lukewarm praise, shrugs of indifference, some jeering laughter, and a few derisive jabs," according to The Associated Press.
"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 TV in San Francisco.
Reuters reported that the film left critics cold.
"Nothing really works," said Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald. "It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun."
Film criticism aside, USA Today reports that the movie "deviates only subtly" from the book, with the lead character—Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks)—actually entertaining the notion that Jesus might have been divine after all. (Brown's book claims that Christ wasn't God.)
In the film, Langdon says, "History shows Jesus was an extraordinary man. Why couldn't Jesus have been divine and still have been a father?" That line isn't in the book. And near the end of the movie, Langdon says, "What matters is what you believe," also indicating that the film doesn't take quite as hard-line a stance on the question of Christ's divinity.
USA Today also reports that, contrary to rumors, there are no scenes of Jesus and Mary Magdalene romantically involved.
Rick Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter writes in his review: "For those who hate [the book], the eagerly awaited and much-hyped movie version beautifully exposes all its flaws and nightmares of logic. For those who love the book's page-turning intensity, the movie version heightens Brown's mischievous interweaving of genre action, historical facts and utter fictions. In other words, for those who bear witness to the film The Da Vinci Code, what you see depends on what you believe. Kinda like religion itself."
Mainstream critics are not impressed.
Christian critics in North America are just now seeing press screeners. Our review will post on Friday, and next week's Film Forum will include a roundup of reactions from Christian critics.
Like Failure to Launch and Stick It, Poseidon seems like a gift from film studios to film critics. After all, an enormous blockbuster about an enormous ship that, despite its promises of greatness, crashes and burns? The potential for bad shipwreck jokes is endless.
Of course, Poseidon has a historical pedigree that those other films lack. A remake of the classic 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure, Hollywood's latest big-budget parade of explosions and general carnage also boasts a big-name director; helming this ship is none other than Wolfgang Peterson, the man behind such previous deep-sea disaster flicks as Das Boot and The Perfect Storm. The setting is New Years' Eve, onboard a colossal luxury cruise ship. The passengers are having a doozy of a celebration, at least until some giant waves crash the party. The ship is capsized, and only a few passengers survive.
Those that do survive, though—including characters played by Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, and Emmy Rossum—are urged to stay inside the safety of an air bubble at the bottom (i.e., top) of the ship. Needless to say, this advice is quickly discarded, and a gang of survivors—led by renegade Dylan Johns (Lucas)—head up (i.e., to the bottom) of the ship in search of safer ground.
Christian critics aren't terribly impressed.
Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) says the remake doesn't live up to the original, writing that "by shifting the focus from 'how to survive' to 'who dies next,' the filmmakers unintentionally make The Poseidon Adventure more like Ten Little Indians or Final Destination." Breimeier continues, "If disaster films are your cup of tea and you don't mind Hollywood tinkering with the original, there's little reason to talk you out of this voyage. However, if the concept seems too tired, formulaic, or depressing for your entertainment value, then don't bother boarding this ship."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) calls the film "a reasonably effective but inferior remake of 1972's fondly remembered, and already remade for television, disaster film, The Poseidon Adventure," adding that Poseidon "is far from a great film, but it's got enough escapist value to keep it afloat."
Meanwhile, Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) calls the film "an update that doesn't just abbreviate the original title, it hacks off virtually any semblance of meaningful plot established in that version's opening half hour. It's as if the director said, Hey, we've got CG now, let's cut straight to the big wave."
Giving the film an unfavorable comparison to Titanic, Christa Bannister (Crosswalk) says "there's just not enough of the human-interest element in Poseidon to balance out the tragedy, which ultimately makes the film sink even when the boat was still above water."
Kenneth R. Morefield (Christian Spotlight) also criticizes the film's characterization: "In Poseidon we get establishing characteristics rather than character development, so when the rogue wave topples the ship a scant fifteen to twenty minutes in, we are left with one long chase sequence. As well as being flat, the characters are relatively static; they do not change much during the film nor respond to what happens to them. The simply run from one room to the next."
Mainstream critics say Poseidon sinks.
Just My Luck out of luck
Lindsay Lohan seems to be making the jump from light, teen-oriented comedies to slightly more grown-up fare—later this summer we'll be seeing the Mean Girls star in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, and she's also working on a biopic of Robert F. Kennedy. For now, though, her target audience remains teen and preteen girls, as the youthful romantic comedy Just My Luck makes clear.
With a plot that seems borrowed from a classic episode of Seinfeld, Lohan's latest vehicle finds her playing the perpetually lucky Ashley Albright. Her foil—and love interest—is Jake Hardin (Chris Pine) who seems to have nothing but bad luck. Or at least, it's all bad luck until he and Ashley meet and, eventually, kiss. Then, suddenly, their fortunes are reversed—he's got all the good luck, and she's stuck with complete misfortune.
And so, it would seem, are the Christian critics who had to watch this film. Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) writes that, "while Ashley and her friends in Just My Luck may have jobs and apartments in New York City, they still behave like adolescents. To make things worse, Just My Luck is a formulaic romantic comedy saddled with a really dumb gimmick."
Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) is also unimpressed: "Just My Luck causes real concern. Its general mindset toward sex is casual. For example, Ashley's friends immediately inquire if she slept with a guy on their first date. Similarly, sharing a passionate kiss with a masked, anonymous stranger is treated as business as usual for Ashley. These elements, combined with profanity, spoil what could have been a much sweeter film."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) is troubled by the film's romantic take on mysticism and superstition: "Regrettably, Just My Luck works because it's based on things like astrology, fortune telling, tarot readings, and Karma—most of which are specifically forbidden, biblically speaking."
Sherri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) is also troubled by the film's spirituality, and criticizes it for being "a flimsy, formulaic film [whose] few saving graces include a drool-worthy wardrobe and a few slapstick giggles that Lindsay is so perfect at."
Mainstream critics wish Lindsay better luck next time.
Soccer movie scores a Goal!
There are two kinds of sports movies: The inspiring, uplifting tales of the underdog conquering the odds and attaining victory, and there's … uh, well, actually, there's pretty much just one kind of sports movie. For what the genre tends to lack in originality, though, it often makes up for in crowd-pleasing intensity—precisely the virtue that made Remember the Titans and Glory Road recent family favorites.
The latest entry in the genre, and the first in a planned trilogy, is Goal! The Dream Begins. An overcoming-the-odds soccer story, Goal! follows the rise of young athletic hopeful Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a Los Angeles youth who dreams of making it to the professionals. His family, however, doesn't share his dream—in fact, his father has his own plans of opening a landscaping business with his son's help.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says the film is flawed but worth seeing. "Despite the underdeveloped characters and the overlong length, director Danny Cannon, helped by Becker's appealing performance, has made a crowd-pleasing film that manages to score."
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) agrees: "Goal! reaches for and pushes all those familiar sports-movie buttons in this pool-boy-to-global-sports-hero story. Despite the fact that its only original twist is that the football is black-and-white-and-round, fans of the sports genre, in general, and soccer, specifically, will find the old tune to be still plenty catchy."
Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight), however, is not so impressed: "My advice is to skip this one and tell Disney you want to see more films like Narnia. We're not buying your recycled spoiled formula."
Mainstream critics are divided on whether this Dream is worth pursuing.
Confidentially, Art School not so hot
An indie filmmaker lampooning the pretensions of the art world—oh, how droll! Terry Zwigoff first made his mark with the critically acclaimed Ghost World, and now he's back to dark, dry, and ironic humor—mostly at the expense of art school enrollees—in Art School Confidential. Part black comedy and part murder mystery, the film is in fact so confidential that most Christian critics opted not to see it—though, as this limited-release indie film opens in more and more cities, that may very well change.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) is somewhat impressed with the film's satire, but less than pleased with the storytelling: "Zwigoff is on firm, if shallow, ground when he mocks the art world and the caricatures who inhabit it. He seems less certain what to do with the serial-killer part of the story once it finally raises its head and becomes an integral part of the drama. The few characters we might have cared for become increasingly shallow themselves and prone to making stupid decisions (a suicide attempt here, a narcissistic pretense of love there), and it all lapses into cliché s about the relationship between art and infamy, between personal integrity and selling your soul, and so on … "
Mainstream critics mostly think Confidential should stay under wraps.
More reviews of recent releases:
Mission: Impossible III: Gene Edward Veith (World) writes: "It has all the meaning of a roller coaster at a theme park. While you are in your seat, the experience is sort of exciting and fun. But once those few thrilling moments are over, you come away with nothing to show for it."
Jeffrey Overstreet, our regular Film Forum writer, is taking the month off. Josh Hurst, one of our film critics, is filling in.
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