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First Review of 'The Da Vinci Code'

'The Da Vinci Code' | 'Mission: Crumbling' | Carmela, Dr. Melfi Get Artsy | Nick Lachey Sells His Soul for Gold

First Review of 'The Da Vinci Code'

The 2006 Cannes Film Festival started unofficially tonight with a wildly anticipated screening for the press of Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code."

After all the buzz, the hype, the controversy, Cannes was ready to make news tonight. I think even the lovely head of the press office, Christine Aimé, was happy to see this one finally pass through her area.

Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's absurdly realized thriller is going strong. It works on the level of "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind" and the best of his beautifully realized films.

When "The Da Vinci Code" takes a brief wrong turn, though, and Howard momentarily loses control of his huge, streamlined vehicle, it's hard to say where to put the blame. I vote for screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

But right now you want to know is: Is "The Da Vinci Code" a good movie? The overall answer is yes.

For most of its overlong two and a half hours, the film is enticing. And surprising in that it's not Tom Hanks — solid as usual — or French film star Audrey Tautou who make the movie tick. It's Sir Ian McKellen, who appears about a quarter to half way through the proceedings and very sublimely scores himself an Academy Award nomination.

Hanks and Tautou, on the other hand, have thankless jobs. They have to propel Brown's bizarre story forward without getting in the way.

They do that just fine, but often come off more as Mulder and Scully in "The X-Files" than as passionately charged leads.

Some may argue with their choices, but I think it was the only way out when the material — a huge best-selling novel with gigantic expectations from its audience — outweighs the actor's opportunity to shine. To say they each emerge unscathed is a compliment — believe me.

You probably know the basic story of "The Da Vinci Code." I never did read the book, maybe on purpose because I wanted to judge it as a film only. It's a thriller, the key element being the search for the Holy Grail.

In this case, the grail is supposed to be the last living descendent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The clues to all this are found in the Louvre museum, filed under "Da Vinci."

Maybe if Brown had filed them under Leonardo he would have had an easier time figuring the whole thing out. Leonardo was his name and Da Vinci was his address.

Anyway, there are complications as Hanks plays a Harvard expert on symbology. But he is realty a modern, younger, long-haired hip American version of Jacques Derrida let out on a long leash. He is really a semiotics expert looking for a spot on Oprah, a sort of Indiana Jones trying to find meaning where there isn't any.

Tautou is the granddaughter of a man who holds the key to the code, but doesn't get to impart it to anyone. McKellen is the antagonist who propels them to find an answer.

I don't want to sound vague, but nobody — not even readers of the book — wants spoilers in a review. The real success of the movie is that Howard maintains the suspense of the story even when you're pretty sure where it's headed.

The cinematography, music and lighting are superb. And for the most part, Goldsman's screenplay — while very long — lets us play along.

Unfortunately, he treats some of the story lazily, as if it were "Batman" and Tautou were a female Bruce Wayne searching for her roots.

You can almost feel a shift as the movie turns away from its course and heads into difficult territory. When the big reveal comes, the audience I was with was so uncomfortable that they laughed at the wrong moment.

I suspect that won't be the case when the film plays in theaters; regular audiences are going to take this seriously. But I wish it had been done a different way.

Howard, smartly, senses there's a problem and immediately tries to undo the damage by letting Tautou almost mock the reveal. Howard, you see, has a beautiful mind himself, so he knows how to dig himself out of trouble.

Is "The Da Vinci Code" the best movie of 2006? Probably not. But it's a good movie, solid entertainment with much to recommend it. The only people who could be unhappy with it are Opus Dei, which is fairly well attacked as represented in excellent performances by Paul Bettany, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina.

Mainstream audiences will take this for what it is: superb escapism, excellent summer entertainment and ambitious filmmaking.

'Mission': Crumbling

I am even more flummoxed by the box office numbers for "Mission: Impossible 3" than I think maybe Paramount’s executives.

But Monday night’s numbers are really startling, as the film continues to drop off in audience. Monday night brought in $1,875,999. That’s about half what the movie did a week ago, when it took in $3.5 million. Ouch!

The domestic total now comes to $87 million. The foreign total is $129 million including $20 million from Tom Cruise’s fans in South Korea.

At the rate things are going, hitting the $100 million mark in the United States by next Sunday night is a possibility, if not definite. Even with mixed to poor reviews, “The Da Vinci Code” is going to swamp the box office on its first weekend.

And what about "Poseidon?" On Monday night, approximately 4,500 people went to see it all over the United States. The total take so far is a little over $23 million. "Poseidon" had an announced $160 million production budget, which means it was closer to $200 million.

The movie is so bad, it doesn’t even have a foreign schedule, as far as I can tell. It’s a complete wash for Warner’s, which will now pin its hopes to Bryan Singer’s "Superman Returns."

Carmela, Dr. Melfi Get Artsy

Yes, Carmela Soprano and Dr. Melfi do indeed socialize off camera, even if they don’t get many scenes together.

Last week, I ran into Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco at a super art auction to benefit a great cause, Pure Vision Arts, run by The Shield Institute.

This is a group that works with autistic and disabled artists to help them realize their potential. And what potential they have: the artists — many of whom were in attendance — are incredibly gifted. Many of them have their work shown in galleries and museums around the country.

The auction of a few pieces raised over $25,000, thanks to the good graces of Steven Green, owner of GreenAir and Steven Green Real Estate.

Green is a fixture around town these days, hobnobbing at Elaine’s when he’s not in the front row at Yankee games or gliding around town in his enormous chauffeured Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. He’s totally devoted to Pure Vision Arts, and the results are remarkable.

As far as the auction goes, Edie was cute. She bid on a couple of items, but got out around $4,000.

“I’m almost out of work again!” she explained to the auctioneer.

Once an employed actor, always one, I guess, even with Emmys, Golden Globes and several million bucks in residuals.

Lorraine accepted an honorary award from the group, but it was my pal, "Sopranos" executive producer Ilene Landress, who actually went home with a beautiful painting. The girl has good taste and a heart of gold …

Nick Lachey Sells His Soul for Gold

The long-suffering Nick Lachey, previously married to Jessica Simpson, struck gold this week. After telling the story of his failed marriage everywhere, and appearing shirtless to boot, he sold 172,000 copies of his solo album and wound up at No. 2.

The CD is called “What’s Left of Me,” but he’ll have to be the judge of that.…

Warner Music couldn’t do much with excellent new albums by Paul Simon and Neil Young. They sold 64,000 and 55,000 copies, respectively.

Warner Music had a big hit with The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double CD. It hit No. 1 with 450,000 copies.

But at this rate, wouldn’t they be wise to sell to EMI and let this misery end?

And by the way, does anyone know what happened to Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? Was it released? Or did I just imagine that the guy from Steely Dan put out a new CD and it vanished?....

If you’re a James Blunt fan, get ready: He’s playing a gig in NYC on May 30 for Myspace.com. The location is a mystery for now because the venue is small. Maybe they’re worried about some "criminal intent." That’s all I’m saying …