How much work can you get done in five hours? That’s the crucial question in “Angels & Demons,” the sequel to the 2006 global megahit “The Da Vinci Code.”
Adapted from the novel by the same author — Dan Brown — featuring the same character — symbology professor Robert Langdon — played by the same actor — Tom Hanks — and directed by the same Ron Howard, “Angels” comes off more like a progress report by an efficiency expert than the second installment of a religious/historical murder mystery. “Da Vinci” was leisurely paced comparatively, with the scenery changing from Paris to the English countryside to London, and the events spaced out over the course of a few days. This time, everyone acts like they’re in a mad rush to catch a flight out during Thanksgiving weekend with irritated, teeth-clenching expressions to match. In “Da Vinci,” there were at least some minutes for a sit-down tea and biscuits, but in “Angels,” no one gets so much as a sip of Crystal Geyser.
But then, you suspect from just looking at the promotional shots of Howard and Hanks, his favorite actor, that this is a team of schedule-obsessed workaholics who prefer to chop-chop through the work at full speed, churn out the results, wrap things up and go on to the next project.
Love interest? A lingering chat over double espressos in an Italian cafe? Forget all that. Despite its darkly mysterious subject, “Angels & Demons” is devoid of depth, sentiment or emotion, fired only by a desire to get things done. You’ll see a lot of busy, incredibly hardworking people, but nothing as intriguing as celestial beings or their counterparts from hell. Cut and dried from start to finish, the whole thing is so businesslike they should require a dress code at the door: Dark suits and brief cases and black, pointy shoes.
Consider this day in the life of Robert Langdon, Harvard symbology professor. Hard at work on a book on Galileo and waiting for permission to be let into the Vatican Archives, Robert’s day begins before dawn. By 5 a.m., he’s finishing laps in the swimming pool and by 5:30 he’s showered, changed and in a meeting with an emissary from the Papal Office who tells Robert he must fly to Rome immediately. By the afternoon he’s inside the Vatican, being briefed by police inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino) about threats made to destroy St. Peter’s Square and kill four kidnapped cardinals, who have been named the most likely candidates to succeed the late pope. He’s also introduced to Richter (Stellan Skaarsgard), the head of the Swiss Guards, and hottie scientist Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer).
A canister of antimatter has been stolen from Vittoria’s lab, which will apparently be used to blow up the square at midnight. Striding from chamber to chamber and traversing long stone corridors, Robert is informed of further developments: The threats are from the Illuminati — a secret brotherhood once persecuted by the Church, whose list of members apparently included Galileo. Robert’s job (as he’s told by Olivetti, their shoes clack-clacking on the stone pavements) is to locate the cardinals, discover the whereabouts of the canister, expose the Illuminati and save the Vatican. That’s one hell of a lot of work in a single night.
Robert isn’t the only work-obsessed professional on the premises. The assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) puts in far more muscle work — single-handedly, he incarcerates the cardinals in a dungeon and comes up with four ingenious (but back-breaking) ways to murder them one by one in exact accordance to some symbolic game based on a text written by Galileo. Oh, and he had to sneak into Vittoria’s maximum security lab beforehand, kill off a lot of people, steal the antimatter and plant it inside a stone vault in Vatican City. Either the guy’s chewing protein tablets or he’s into endurance sports in a big way.
I kept waiting for Robert to strike up something — anything! — with the smoky-eyed, tousel-haired Vittoria but zilch. Three years ago, he at least had the politeness to give the leading lady (Audrey Tatou) a hug goodbye. In “Angels,” he’s perpetually sour-faced and barely takes a minute for a chat before he’s up and striding away. Oh well. She sure as hell isn’t missing anything.