Reviewed by Cammila Alberston

After Ron Howard's 2006 adaptation of the hysterically popular beach-read The Da Vinci Code turned out to be disappointingly stuffy at best (especially for a book so tawdry and fun that it should have been a movie in the first place), you'd think he would have learned his lesson. Sadly, 2009's Angels & Demons isn't executed with any more attention to excitement than its predecessor -- though it does include more cheap thrills in general, simply by virtue of the script (based on a Da Vinci Code prequel) having more awesomely ridiculous plot points to draw on.

It's not strongly specified where the story's timeline exists relative to the first movie, but it stars the same hero, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), whose unparalleled knowledge of Christian history and lore is once again called upon to solve a mystery. The pope has just died, and the papal conclave is holing up in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pontiff. Unfortunately, this is just the moment that the secret society The Illuminati decides to resurface, kidnap the top four cardinals up for the job, steal a canister of antimatter from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and set up a Batman-villain-esque series of clues about the whole plan for authorities. As Langdon and his hot physicist compatriot Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) decipher each clue, they're sent to various highly relevant historical locations around Vatican City in search of a different captured clergyman, racing to find each one before he's elaborately murdered, and hoping to retrieve the stolen container, which will blow up like a mini nuclear bomb if they don't track it down before midnight.

The plot is also colored with lots of fun facts (and pseudo-facts) about Christian history and symbolism, just like in The Da Vinci Code. And there are many of the same twists and turns: the film has almost too many characters, each turning up to create more intrigue, each turning out to have a different interest at stake, and each usually faking you out once or twice with so many turns and double-turns that it's easy to stop caring.

Of course, you might not care anyway. Despite an even wilder plot than the first movie, Angels & Demons suffers from the same stilted, overly serious tone. Even when truly insane things are happening -- antimatter bombs, human branding, priests piloting helicopters -- the narrative is still dry and stodgy. Howard's style as a director has always been pretty earnest, and maybe he was hoping to compensate for the over-the-top material already present in the script by employing an even more modest touch to his work than usual. Whatever his reasons for keeping things so stale, it was a bad choice, but lucky for viewers, some stories are just too crazy for even the dullest storytelling to completely ruin the fun.