Early-on in the life of “The Da Vinci Code” the book, there were some mild mutterings from persons of the cloth. Complaints were made about the work’s central thesis – that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife and heirs of the marriage continue to live today. It’s a well-guarded secret that was supposed to be revealed at the millenium.

But the early disapproval was nothing compared to the fierce outcry that is greeting the film version. The Pope’s foot soldiers are on the march. It’s easy to understand why. In contemporary society, movies are more immediate than books. More people go to films than read. In spite of 40-million copies sold worldwide and 60-million copies in print; the movie is going to reach a wider audience than the book, an audience The Church sees as impressionable, even gullible. Lenin wrote that cinema is the best tool for propaganda. It reaches the masses.

So regarding “The Da Vinci Code,” here again we see Father Religion patronizing his flock. Who knows better? Who can do your thinking for you? Who can best explain Jesus’ lost years – you know, ages 10 through 30? Who doesn’t want you to know about this little secret society of ours – Opus Dei? Papa’s preaching big-time these days.

If only The Church and its minions had waited until the movie’s opening weekend. Surely there must be a few folks at The Vatican who are tuned into show business. Somebody within those hallowed walls probably reads Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Because if they had waited, they could have breathed a huge sigh of relief. “The Da Vinci Code” is not a great movie. It’s not a terrible movie either. It is what it is, and that’s a cinematic Cliffs Notes version of the book. I doubt it’s going to bring The Church to its knees. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have adhered to the book like good Boy Scouts adhere to the Boy Scout manual. Oh sure, there’s a tweak here, and an adjustment there, but what you get on the screen is Dan Brown’s vision and story. What you don’t get on the screen is Dan Brown’s sense of fun and energy. The novel moves along like a powerhouse. The movie lumbers along making sure that fans of the book will see their favorite character and their favorite scene. Whether it’s the determination of Jean Reno’s obsessed policeman or the wackiness of Paul Bettany’s self-flagellating albino monk or the whimsy of Ian McKellen’s clever Holy Grail scholar, fans of all should be pleased.

What “The Da Vinci Code” movie desperately needed was a guiding force who understood the cinematic rules of the chase. Director Howard is not a thrilling director and he’s no director of thrillers. He flattens what needed to be inflated. Watching the movie I kept hoping that Howard wasn’t going to be too literal, that he was going to use the novel as a blueprint for the fun treasure hunt that it is. No such luck. He uses it as The Gospel According To Dan Brown. Howard does throw in some scenes of magical realism mostly for flashbacks or historical explanation (fantasy sequences for the uninitiated), but not enough of them. There’s more intellectual whimsy on an hour-long episode of “Numb3rs” on CBS television than there is in this 149-minute film. I also kept hoping Howard was going to turn on a light. Yes, I know, the opening third of the movie is set at night, but when you’re inside a building, you can damn well flick a switch. And I know they have lights in the Louvre; I’ve been there. McKellen’s Leah Teabing lives in a fabulous French chateau and does his research in a massive ballroom lit by three immense chandeliers. You think Howard would have turned on at least one of them. Dreary. Dreary. Dreary. The darkness lulls you, but not into a false sense of security.

Primarily because of Brown’s framework, the film’s thesis is still entertaining. Robert Langdon is a noted America scholar of symbology in Paris to give a lecture. The curator of the Louvre is murdered and as he lay dying, he left clues that lead to a conspiracy of vast dimensions. Secret societies, willing collaborators, murderous religious officials, crazed monks, and nutty professors all consort to protect the Holy Grail, which in Langdon’s world is not a chalice, but royal blood of a very special kind.

Suspected of the murder. Langdon flees with Sophie, a lovely policewoman – a codebreaker – who understands the danger he is in. They run for their lives, but not before they stop at the Mona Lisa for cryptic inspiration. A big negative is that the policewoman is played without signs of life by Audrey Tautou. At times her French accent is incomprehensible. A positive is that if you’ve read the book, it doesn’t matter because we’re not talking Dostoyevsky here. The dialogue is simplistic and it follows the book, except near the end when screenwriter Goldsman decides to cover all the bases and has Langdon see both sides of the Divinity/Humanness of Jesus issue. Sort of like good cop, bad cop, but it comes across as obvious patronization and pandering. I didn’t mind Tom Hanks’ performance as Langdon and I didn’t mind his haircut. Like Mary Magdalene, he’s only a vessel for what is, in the book, a tale that should have been a lot more fun in the movie. Alas, he and Ms. Tautou have the acting chemistry of two lead pencils. Blame Tautou and Howard for that. As for the earthquake that worries The Church. Those who are awake at the end of the picture won’t have the energy to shake up anything. This is because this movie version of an engaging thriller has committed one of the biggest sins of all. It never rocks and rolls. By Michael Calleri ALT PRESS Online Movie Editor

I’ve read Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code” three times. The first was a immediately after it was published. Then, I read it again last summer. And a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the movie, I read it on the airplanes flying me between Buffalo and Los Angeles and back.

I never considered the book anything other than a crackerjack yarn; a clever page-turner utilizing a number of mysteries of the Catholic Church and the Christian tradition. It’s filled with fascinating settings – a virtual must-see list of artistic and religious sites in Paris and London. It met my personal preferences for an engaging thriller, and I love thrillers and mysteries. Michael Connelly, Lee Child, David Baldacci, John Nance, John Grisham, Clive Cussler Stuart Woods, and Vince Flynn are all favorite authors of mine. There are others. Call it beach reading; call it airport fiction, call it what you want, but reading a good story with a determined hero or heroine and plenty of action is a relaxing form of entertainment. I never thought that Brown’s book was going to undermine the Catholic Church. And if it does undermine The Church, then the Pope has a lot more to worry about than pedophile priests.