(In theaters, May 2006) This film is as critic-proof as they come, what with its built-in audience, puffed-up controversy and all-star cast and crew. No matter what anyone say, it’ll make zillions and find a modest place of some sort in film history. Stripped of the hype, though, it’s no surprise to find that The Da Vinci Code is merely an average thriller, competently made but hardly innovative. In many ways, it’s fitting that two of the blandest Hollywood stars of the moment, director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks, would help in delivering the epitome of mass-market cinema entertainment. Perfectly blending French and American cinema, The Da Vinci Code delivers endless conversations rudely interrupted by car chases and modest gunfights. Of the actors, only Ian McKellen is any fun at all as a mischievous historian with a flamboyant streak: Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou are wasted in roles that either don’t suit them or are cut short without much conclusion. But the film’s most distinctive trait is how it alternates between talky exposition and very average thriller episodes. To be fair, the book was just as bad, except that the roughshod charm of Dan Brown’s clunky-but-earnest prose had a forward rhythm of its own. I expect a huge number of academic papers to be written on the adaptation of this story from one medium to another, especially when you consider that the book seems faster-paced that the film. While the critical knives had been drawn in anticipation of this film, the end result in no way deserves a critical savaging: in most aspects, it’s perfectly serviceable, with a tiny thrill of irreverence considering the subject matter. I’ve seen both better and worse this week. In the end, most people will find this film to be a mirror of their own expectations: Fans of the book will be pleased, curious film-goers will be satisfied and literary critics will find another reason to call Dan Brown the Anti-Christ. Now that’s entertainment for everyone!