A leading Catholic activist is telling Christians their worries, building for months, over yesterday’s release of “The Da Vinci Code,” have been wasted on an “inane,” “slumbering,” “anti-climatic” movie that “fails to persuade” and flounders more on its poor quality than its anti-Catholic theology.

Bill Donohue

“This was one of the most inane films I have ever seen,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, after viewing the movie on opening day.

“It takes forever to get going, and even when it finally does, it fails to sustain the momentum,” he said. “Indeed, it somehow manages to revert back to its original slumbering style, delivering one of the most thoroughly anti-climatic endings ever to grace the screen.”

The theater was packed, said Donohue, but at the end only three or four people clapped and an equal number hissed. “Most just walked out in a zombie-like fashion, eerily mimicking the characters on the screen.”

Donohue’s experience mirrored that of an audience of critics who panned the movie earlier this week at its Cannes premiere. The Associated Press reported that some walked out of the theater in the closing minutes and others hissed and whistled while credits rolled.

Variety, the film industry’s bible, called “Da Vinci” “a stodgy, grim thing,” in an online review this week.

“Nothing really works. It’s not suspenseful. It’s not romantic. It’s certainly not fun,” wrote Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald.

Donohue agreed.

“There are too many symbols and too many arcane codes,” he said, “but the real reason the movie fails is because it lacks suspense, is hopelessly melodramatic, and is way too long. The few times the audience laughed was due to a quip made by one of the characters. These moments were much appreciated – it broke the boredom.”

Last month, Vatican official Archbishop Angelo Amato asked Catholics to boycott the movie based on Dan Brown’s best-selling book. In the novel, Brown claims Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and still has living descendants – a secret the Catholic church has been covering up for centuries.

Donohue never joined the boycott chorus but sought, unsuccessfully, a disclaimer on the film that its story was fiction.

“As for the anti-Catholic nature of the movie, it is a credit to Ron Howard that he softened the edges,” said Donohue. “To be specific, the conversation about the divinity of Christ, and about religious belief in general, was portrayed with greater sensitivity to Christians than was depicted in the book. But in doing so the film may have lost some of its punch. I say this not because I would have preferred a more in-your-face style, but because it simply happens to be true.”

Scene from “The Da Vinci Code.”

The vice chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Catholic Initiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation, which had rated the film as “disturbing” because of its portrayal of the origin of Christianity and its attacks on the Catholic Church, echoed Donohue after seeing the film. Mario Sobrejuanite said the movie “is much subdued” because its attack against the Catholic Church is “lesser.”

“The treatment is very different. There are lots of elements in the film not found in the book,” he told the Baguio Sun-Star, a Philippine paper. Nonetheless, he added, “it directly antagonizes our belief.”

“I am mildly appreciative if [Howard] softened the story a little,” said Donohue. “But frankly, what matters to me most is that the movie is being regarded as such a bomb that only a fool would believe its thesis.”

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