You just had to feel a little bad for Ron Howard (a very little bad if you're Catholic) last week when his latest pet project—that infernal Dan Brown movie—debuted to jeers and derisive jabs at the Cannes Film Festival. Everyone's been buzzing about The Da Vinci Code's controversial religious and historical claims for years now, but it seems like it never occurred to anyone that the movie might end up being just plain bad. Not bad in a moral sense, mind you—just bad, period.

Don't feel too sorry for the guy, however—critics may hate his movie, but audiences sure don't. The Da Vinci Codeopened last weekend to $224 million in global ticket sales—the second highest-grossing debut of all time, right behind the third and final Star Wars prequel ($253 million). The film broke box office records worldwide, which is sure to remove some of the critical sting its creators were surely suffering.

With its outlandish claims about Christ and Christianity, however, it's no surprise that Christian critics share the negative response of mainstream reviewers. Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) says the film fails as history and as entertainment: "If you want an entertaining yarn about the Knights Templar, historical secrets, and cryptic codes hidden in famous documents and artifacts, go rent National Treasure. Now there's a movie that knows how to have fun with an absurd premise—and it doesn't spread falsehoods about the Church that have already undermined the faith of many Christians. The best thing that can be said about The Da Vinci Code is that it is such a dud that it just might help to bring this phenomenon to an end. And the sooner, the better."

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) rails against the film's "raving anti-Catholicism," calling it "a 2½‑hour seminar on the evils of monotheism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church." He continues: "The DaVinci Code may be the most systematic and sustained cinematic debunking on the institutions of Catholic Christianity and the Catholic Church that I've ever seen. That it is risible and dim-witted doesn't make it less disgusting."

Harry Forbes and David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) write, "If Brown had merely attempted to resurrect some of the darker chapters in church history, unflattering or not, that might have been fair game. But these egregious assertions, gussied up in the trappings of a Robert Ludlum thriller, are different in that they cut to the core of Christian doctrine. Speculative fantasy is one thing, insensitivity to people's basic beliefs is another."

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Tom Neven (Plugged In) acknowledges a few positive changes made from the book, but still concludes that "this Da Vinci Code-lite, so to speak, still sets out to sow seeds of doubt about the Christian faith and it challenges important core truths established in Scripture. It also leads to an absurd—and damaging—conclusion. Robert ultimately tells Sophie, 'What matters is what you believe.' Never mind evidence, history, or sound reasoning. Just believe what you want. It's a shaky (and shoddy) theology that clashes with the solution to the story's central mystery since the movie must believe the very things Robert is doubting if it's to end the way it does—by providing 'proof' that all the previously mentioned nonsense is still, somehow, true."

Andrew Coffin (World Magazine) agrees: "This is, of course, the religion of me. Langdon's repeated advice to Sophie in a crucial final scene is, 'It's important what you believe.' Not what's true, but what's true for you. In the final analysis, Christianity isn't entirely repudiated, even if it is based on utter falsehoods, because faith (in something) is important, insofar as that faith benefits those who require it. That, more than Mr. Brown's silly, easily refuted conspiracy theories, is an all too prevalent cancer on our culture's understanding of spirituality."

Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) simply states that the film is "a mystery so lifeless, in a package so dull, that even its most outrageous allegations about Jesus Christ and the Catholic church don't get much traction." He goes on to say that it "is, if not exactly good, at least watchable during much of its running time. A climactic sequence two hours into the movie seems to bring the film to a conclusion, but there's still more to come. Much more. Unfortunately, there's no momentum, no sense of grand revelation. The film simply breaks down. The long stretches of dialogue are punishing, the pacing leaden, and the visuals dark and uninviting. The story absurdly tries to wrap a faith-affirming ribbon around its church-bashing package."

Michael Karounos (Christian Spotlight) writes: "It appears that Ron Howard got so caught up in the pompous material that he forgot that it is fiction, that he works in Hollywood, and that his primary responsibility is to entertain not to preach."

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) concludes, "In the end, Howard and Company tried to adapt arguably the most scrutinized, controversial, read, debated, loved, and hated novel of this young century. The attempt is noble. But perhaps theirs was an impossible quest … "

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Matt Page (Open Heaven) says "the film modifies the role of religion in the story, and ends up with a horrifyingly cliché d Hollywoodism 'what matters is what you believe.' It tries to reduce the offensiveness and controversial nature of the novel, but seems, almost inadvertently, to increase this in other places as well. Visually there is some interesting work, the scene in Teabing's study where he reveals the clues allegedly hidden in Leonardo's Last Supper is a triumph, and there are a few other interesting shots. However, the sense of tension and action that made the book such a page-turner is dissipated—the action sequences are a little dull, and the puzzles are solved a little too quickly."

Mainstream critics are tearing Da Vinci to shreds.

Hedge goes over well with Christian critics

Releasing a computer-animated family comedy during a stretch of the year when there's precious little all-ages entertainment out there? Good marketing. Releasing it on the same weekend as a film so controversial that many families and religious groups will go see anything else to avoid putting money in the devil's pocket? Ingenious.

On the computer-animated food chain, Over the Hedge doesn't hold a candle to the best of Pixar's family classics, but its position is certainly nothing to scoff at. On the one hand, it lacks the technical mastery and creative innovation of the Toy Story films and the emotional resonance of Finding Nemo; then again, it's got much more heart than the Shrek films, and its skillful animation puts Hoodwinked to shame.

Perhaps the best analogy is to compare it to such stylish, energetic films as Monsters, Inc. Like that movie, Hedge pulls off the tricky feat of never wearing outs its welcome or seeming overlong, despite the fact that it's basically one long Saturday morning cartoon. Its plot is simple: RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis) gets caught red-handed (pawed?) stealing a wagonload of food from vicious bear Vincent (Nick Nolte), who proves what Stephen Colbert has been cautioning us all along—bears are godless killing machines. Thankfully for RJ, Vincent's still got a week's worth of hibernation to attend to before he'll have the energy to unleash his fury, giving RJ a precious seven days to replenish the bear's snack supply if he wishes to save his life.

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In order to complete his goal, RJ enlists the help of a gaggle of unwitting accomplices: Vern, an ever-cautious tortoise (Gary Shandling); a pair of porcupines (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, reunited after their scene-stealing work in A Mighty Wind) and their three kids; Stella (Wanda Sykes), a feisty, usually-cranky skunk; Ozzie (William Shatner), a drama-loving opossum, and his daughter Heather (Avril Lavigne); and a lovable, hyperactive squirrel, Hammy (brilliantly voiced by Steve Carrell, who manages to make the character into something far more than the Hoodwinked knock-off he could have been). Together, the intrepid varmints begin a week's worth of pillaging and pilfering, venturing into the world of human suburbia and swiping as much junk food as they can get their paws on.

My full review of the film is posted at Reveal.

Carolyn Arends (Christianity Today Movies) is also pleased: "Over the Hedge does not have a story as realized and compelling as Finding Nemo or as innovative as Shrek, but it is refreshingly free of the current-but-fleeting pop culture references that marred Shrek and sank Shark Tale. The film's messages—pro-family (really more "pro-community"), pro-ecology, and anti-consumerism—sometimes feel a bit forced. But Over the Hedge is genuinely and consistently funny, for both children and parents."

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) is not quite as excited: "Over the Hedge is pretty middle-of-the-road entertainment — until the final third, when it kicks into high gear and goes out on a high note."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) agrees: "Mediocre but cheerily enjoyable, the movie imparts a commendable message about family and acting unselfishly, while offering funny commentary on our consumer society's obsession with excess, whether it's for food, sport utility vehicles or entertainment electronics."

Marcus Yoars (Plugged In), however, praises the film for its "several sweet messages about family and loyalty, great onscreen textures that will likely have tots reaching out to pet the furries, and vivid vocal performances. What you end up with is an animated critter caper that, while certainly not perfect and not even necessarily a classic, is better than average in the clever, creative—and clean—categories."

Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk) says, "You could say that Over the Hedge is predictable, but in the end that doesn't really matter. It's cute, laugh-out-loud funny, and can be enjoyed on many levels."

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Shari McMurray (Christian Spotlight) also sings the film's praises: "Full of wonderful realistic computer animation, Over The Hedge has characters you can relate to and have a fun time with. What modern kid's animation flick doesn't have 'potty jokes' these days? This one has a few, but they are not as distasteful as many out there and it is kinda funny when a character burps and tinges the air a deep magenta."

Mainstream critics are generally pleased with the film, if not overwhelmed.

Christian critics see no good in See No Evil

In the latest horror-film-of-the-week exercise in big-screen sadism, a group of juvenile delinquents, eager to complete their community service requirements, are working together to renovate an old, abandoned hotel. It's all fun and games, of course, until the kids find themselves being chased through the creepy old hallways by a deranged, psychotic killer, played here by pro-wrestler Kane.

Such is the basic premise of See No Evil, a thriller that, not surprisingly, was seen by very few Christian critics. David DiCerto (Catholic News service) explains why: "In See No Evil … Kane plays a hulking homicidal maniac with a penchant for removing his victims' eyes, a course of action viewers may consider inflicting upon themselves shortly into this sick exercise of screen sadism."

Mainstream critics see no reason to praise the film either.

More reviews of recent releases:

The Promise: Lisa Ann Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) writes: "Ultimately, the movie's narrative fails to delivers on its visceral promise. Its exploration of choice and the extent to which we can and do control our own lives is ephemeral and slight, like another piece of silk out of which the story is spun, but not an element that significantly shapes the moviegoing experience. Indeed, The Promise is an aesthetic experience as much as anything. And while that was perhaps not the director's intent—there is a certain earnestness about the story that belies its philosophical aspirations—the movie is delightful nonetheless."

Poseidon: Gene Edward Veith (World Magazine) says: "The movie shows some acts of self-sacrificial heroism, but Poseidon is mostly a sensory onslaught of dead bodies—falling, burned, piled up, floating. Also explosions, falling equipment, drownings, and crawling through claustrophobia-inducing passages as the water keeps rising."

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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