Red lightAngels & DemonsAnother Robert Langdon movie, another bad hair day for Tom Hanks and another round of pseudo intellectual beat-the-clock brain mulching from director Ron Howard, whose adaptations of Dan Brown’s books are beginning to feel a lot like National Treasure Goes to the Vatican.

In Angels and Demons, a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, Langdon (Hanks) darts off to Rome shortly after the Pope dies. He joins forces with Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to help the police foil a fiendish plot from an ancient underground brotherhood, the Illuminati, who’ve emerged from their lamb-slaughtering lairs to execute a bunk of priests then blow up the Vatican. That’s the plan anyway, but fortunately for Langdon and co. the bad guy follows a path littered with all sorts of codes, clues and pointers – meaning any ridiculously intelligent movie character prone to improbable deductions and Angela Lansbury-esque party crashing techniques will easily be able to sniff out the trail and restore peace and order to the holy land of pizzas, funny clothes and round-the-clock prayers.

There is not one, not two, but three separate moments in which Langdon, exasperated and bereft of clues, looks to the ground, spies a mysterious image, cries out “it’s a <insert esoteric historical sounding word> “ and then flounders about revelling in his discovery. To their credit the screenwriters don’t try and present Langdon as a formidable physical presence (like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure) so he remains a wussy bookworm who happily allows others to do the dirty work. In one scene Langdon survives a shootout by hiding, cowering and waiting for help to arrive, and if you forgiven the scene for its less than invigorating plotting there is something refreshingly un-cool about this brazen display of cowardice. And while it’s still a bad hair day for Hanks, the cut this time around is markedly better than his do in The Da Vinci Code. Good move.

The bad guy works on a schedule (no meal breaks) of one priest murdered per hour in a public location, so the story takes place over a single long night of zipping between monuments, courtyards, crypts, catacombs and cathedrals. The episodic plotting needed a hot-footed tempo but Howard’s pace is lacklustre despite an aggressively overscored soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Langdon has about 45 minutes to solve each riddle before scooting off to the next murder point but he appears ever-unflustered, leisurely leafing through archived books, and nobody would bat an eyelid if the creaseless academic stopped to order coffee, a croissant and something nice to read. The only time the characters appear to be in a rush is when they jump in a car, post-epiphany, to screech off to the next place – and the cynic in me suggests this is more about splicing together breathless car chases than toying with the mechanics of plot propulsion. Angels & Demons is occasionally entertaining but long, dull and slow-witted – a join-the-dots Saturday Matinee adventure with a quasi historical bent.

Angels & Demons’s Australian theatrical release date: May 14, 2009