Dir: Ron Howard. US.2006. 152 mins.

If Dan Brown's soaraway bestseller The Da Vinci Code wasclumsily written but a page-turning guilty pleasure, Ron Howard's film versionis well-made but chronically devoid of the guilty pleasures it needs to make itsucceed as first-rate popcorn entertainment. Howard and screenwriter AkivaGoldsman have remained rigidly faithful to the chronology and events of thebook, but make ponderous work of the delicious conspiracy theories and treasure hunt whichare the phenomenon's raison d'etre.

The problem is that the preposterousparticulars of Brown's one-night chase across French and English monumentsbecome markedly silly when depicted with such sombre portentousness as Howardadopts here. Rejecting the exhilarating adventure pacing of other treasure hunthokum like Raiders Of The Lost Arkand National Treasure, thefilm-makers attempt to overlay the pulpy material with a thick coating ofdramatic solemnity more evocative of adult fare like The NinthGate or Eyes Wide Shut.

The murky, often turgidresult will be disappointing to many fans of Brown's wildly successful book andits many imitators, but that cannot stop this juggernaut from becoming one ofthe year's biggest blockbusters when it rides into the world's theatres thisweekend after its world premiere as the Cannes opening night film today. Noteven Sony Pictures could have predicted the excitement, anticipation and columninches that The Da Vinci Code isgenerating. Indeed no film would ever be able to meet these expectations orthis hype.

The closest thing to a modelis probably Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone which set about bringing another venerated book tothe screen with global box office results of over $950m in 2001. The DaVinci Code will probably fail toreach those dizzy numbers but its initial impact will be seismic as theenormous want-to-see is indulged by millions, both fans of the book and thosewho want to know what all the fuss is about. Its descent from those heavenlyheights will be rapid and steep due to lukewarm reviews and so-soword-of-mouth, but by then Sony will no doubt have raked in a holy grail'sworth of box office gold.

Howard and cinematographerSalvatore Totino opt for an almost gloomy palette of night-time shades andcolours in their visual treatment, setting the tone for their drama in thedarkly-lit opening sequences.

Their actors likewise playit grimly straight, Tom Hanks making for a solid, unexciting Dr Robert Langdonand Audrey Tautou a distinctly flat and ill-humoured Sophie Neveu. Not that thecrowded, didactic screenplay allows them much to work with. They spend most ofthe time discussing the vagaries of history, she questioning, he explaining.

Langdon is lecturing inParis when he is summoned to the Louvre to help police chief Bezu Fache (Reno)with his investigation of the murder of Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere(Marielle). As it happens, in his final moments, Sauniere has left a series ofclues in the museum's famous paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci to Langdon and hisgrand-daughter Sophie (Tautou) as to the location of a secret for which he hasclearly paid with his life.

Fache, however, a member ofthe Catholic sect Opus Dei, has other plans for Langdon who, he is convinced bythe manipulative Bishop Aringarosa (Molina), was responsible for the murder ofSauniere and three other murders. In reality the four killings were allcommitted by Aringarosa's henchman Silas (Bettany), a tortured Albino monk witha penchant for self-flagellation.

Langdon and Neveu go on therun following the clues that will lead them to uncover the existence of thePriory Of Sion, a covert organization which protects the secret of the HolyGrail.

Thank heavens for IanMcKellen, whose Sir Leigh Teabing enters the plot halfway through. Injectingthe film with its only humour as the wry conspiracy theorist with whom thefugitives seek refuge, McKellen gleefully hams it up as he describes in pompouseducational detail the "true" secret of the Grail - the facts that Jesus Christwas married to Mary Magdalene, that they had a child and that a royal bloodlineexists to this day.

McKellen brings amuch-needed vigour to the film, seriously flagging at this point, which lasts throughthe subsequent sequences in London. The spark has been extinguished, however,by the time the film gets to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland where the finalrevelations are revealed with unintentionally comic gravity.

As if afraid to reshape anyof the source narrative, the film weighs in at a lengthy 152 minutes but evenat that length, its twists and turns are far too numerous for a film toencompass without compromising on character development and narrative momentum.Howard relies on Hans Zimmer's omnipresent score to keep the drama intense anda multitude of flashbacks, often cumbersome and unnecessary, many over-loadedwith CGI, to give the story coherence.

The production's use of reallocations from the Grande Galerie of the Louvre to Chateau de Villette outsideParis to various exteriors in London benefits the film enormously and will nodoubt contribute to the growing tourist industry surrounding Dan Brown'screation.

Prod cos
Imagine Entertainment, Skylark Productions, Columbia Pictures.

Worldwide dist
Sony Pictures

Exec prods
Dan Brown, Todd Hallowell

Brian Grazer & Ron Howard, John Calley

Akiva Goldsman, from the novel by Dan Brown

Salvatore Totino

Prod des
Allan Cameron

Dan Hanley & Mike Hill

Hans Zimmer

Main cast
Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany,Jurgen Prochnow, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Etienne Chicot