Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Mona Lisa Is Trying To Tell Me Something

Memo to America: YOU ARE MEDIOCRE.
That's what we really need to face up to. Some of the time we're a beacon of freedom and hope. A lot of the time we're reactionary douchebags. But the vast majority of the time, America, and American culture, is just... mediocre. Safe. We invented Wonder Bread, John Grisham, and Hanson, three crimes for which we still haven't atoned.
I mean, "Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice"? What, exactly, did she do as National Security Advisor, other than go on the Sunday talk shows and testify before the 9/11 commission about the briefings she ignored? MEDIOCRE AT BEST. And that earns her a promotion to Secretary of State? The good news is, her predecessor lowered the job qualifications to "must be willing to lie to the United Nations on command", and "must never be listened to ever", so Condi should do well enough on the job that when she's done, they can name another oil tanker after her.
But if you want a true example of American mediocrity, of that point in the bell curve where the clicking stops and you're about to raise your hands and start screaming, you need look no farther than the news that Ron Howard will be directing Tom Hanks in the fim adaptation of... The DaVinci Code.
The DaVinci Code is, of course, That Book. Every few years, America decides, as a nation, that we're all going to "read" a book. Partly to keep in practice, but mainly just so we can be seen carrying around stuff that proves we can read. "The Firm" was That Book for a while. The Harry Potter books aspired to That Book status for a few years, until they got too big. I seem to recall "The Thorn Birds" being That Book when I was growing up in the 70's. And right now, the book everyone is carrying around and pretending to read is "The DaVinci Code". It's apparently about some guy who discovers that hidden messages are encoded into DaVinci paintings, leading to a Dark Secret that could Change Everything. It's like "National Treasure", only done for people who realize that the "G" in "Gnostic" is silent.
It's not actually necessary to read "That Book". You just need to own a copy or two. You can leave it lying around, on the kitchen table or in your briefcase, with a bookmark somewhere in the first third, and can get away with saying things like "It's pretty good so far", or "I can't wait to see how it turns out", or "I didn't know they kept all those paintings in France", because all the people you'll be discussing the book with haven't actually read it either. They just held it in front of them on the bus so that they could stare at the Crazy Poodle Hair Woman without being noticed.
We don't have to read That Book, because if enough of us just go out and buy That Book, they'll make a MOVIE of it, and we can all go see the movie and know as much about what was in the book as anybody else does, and we can all nod knowingly at each other and say that the book was better, of course, and went into more detail. We ourselves won't go into more detail, because we understand the pact we've made with each other.
Obviously, when adapting one of America's most beloved pieces of unread fiction, great care must be taken, and that's why they brought Ron Howard on board. I will not make the obvious Opie or Richie Cunningham jokes, as the man who brought us "How The Grinch Stole Christmas", "Willow", and "A Beautiful Mind" does not deserve to be remembered for his harmless, dull, white acting past. Putting Ron Howard on "The DaVinci Code" is like putting the french fried onions on top of your green bean casserole. It doesn't make it better, it just makes it more recognizable, more comfortable.
The DaVinci Code's main character is Some Guy, and who better to portray Some Guy than Tom Hanks? Hanks, who can currently be seen as a creepy, plasticine caricature of himself *, is the cream of mushroom soup in the green bean casserole. Warm, processed, and slightly gooey. Ron Howard said of Hanks that "''Tom is an exciting actor to watch thinking," which shows that MASSIVE QUANTITIES OF HAIR aren't the only things that have gone missing from Howard's skull in the past few decades.
Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is not mediocre. But he can be mathematically expressed AS mediocrity. Goldsman, you see, is the worst screenwriter in the universe. Through, I presume, the dark arts, he managed to win the Oscar for his "A Beautiful Mind" work, making him, technically, also the best screenwriter in the universe. And when you average out those two states, you get mediocrity.
Finally, we have producer Brian Grazer, whose name is attached to so much crap ("Kindergarten Cop", "Sgt. Bilko") and respectable work ("Sports Night", "Arrested Development", "Undercover Brother" that we must judge him by his words. It's BELATED ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!
Speaking of an unnamed, Oscar-winning actress who wanted to play the part of a Parisian cryptologist: ''She could easily do it. 'But I think the audience would be let down a bit. They expect a French girl." From this, we can determine two things. Either Grazer is a complete idiot who doesn't realize the American audience will accept anyone as French as long as they wear a beret, or the actress in question was Halle Berry.
The DaVinci Code: The Movie, coming to theaters in 2005, so that you don't have to finish any of the three copies you own in 2004.
And there's a CGI version of him in that Polar Express movie, too! I'll be here all week. Try the veal.