The film, an urban spaghetti western with a lot of gunshots and wild scenes, required more than Coleridge's "suspension of disbelief." It wanted to indulge us in a haphazard plot in an attempt to make us actually believe it happened in real time. In a single day it spirited us from the Hadron Collider in Switzerland to a swimming pool at Harvard, where we picked up Prof. Robert Langdon (a symbologist who will become a Dan Brown regular as a tech-age Sherlock Holmes) to the jammed speedway streets of Rome in search of a murderer and a vial of antimatter that will blow up Vatican City while unfortunately leaving the film itself unscathed for future generations.
Tom Hanks is the academic sleuth (descending intellectually from Forrest Gump) and the only convincing thing about his role is the fixed pained expression on his face that tells you he would rather be doing something else. Accompanied by Ayelet Zurer, the fetching Israeli actress who covers miles of cobbled city streets and ancient underground passageways in designer high- heeled boots, Hanks quickly concludes that the clue to finding the terrorists in their midst lies in the"four altars of science" - earth, fire, air and water. And as the chosen tracker, he lays out a path that leads him to four churches , the church-banned Galileo manuscript in the Vatican archives that had been denied him as an academic for 10 years, the conclave of cardinals meeting to choose a new pope, and finally ...a hint of travelogue here, the Piazza di Navona with the glorious Bernini fountain sculpture depicting four rivers.
And be sure to stick around for the daredevil sky-diving priest who parachutes into the mass of humanity in St. Peter's Square as his chopper blows up. (If I've given the plot away, I intended to. Even if you see it you will have to wonder about this Houdini feat.) Besides, things were always turning up unexpectedly in the grand square. When Langdon sets out to find a telling marker in the huge expanse trampled by a sea of spectators awaiting the white whirl of smoke symbolizing agreement on a new pope, it takes him no more than a minute or two to look down and report its discovery under foot! And after the sweaty hours of dashing about the city, he somehow turns up in a freshly pressed shirt and necktie as Zurer joins him wearing a veil.
Everything was said to have happened in a few frantic hours. It seemed more like an eternity to me. Buona sera, Roma!