Thrills Aplenty In "Angels & Demons"

"Angels & Demons," a much anticipated sequel to the enormously successful "The Da Vinci Code," opens today, and in what may be a prelude to box-office gold, the Dan Brown book on which it is based shot to the top of the bestseller lists this week.

In adapting another of author Dan Brown's religious-mystery page turners, director Ron Howard wisely gave in to its beat-the-clock thriller elements, which makes for an enjoyable summer movie experience.

Besides Howard, the key players are back from that 2006 international hit, including Tom Hanks as Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon and Akiva Goldsman as screenwriter (with David Koepp collaborating on the script). Joining them are Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Skarsgard says he's no big fan of Dan Brown's writing and accepted a role in "Angels & Demons" only after reading the script based on Brown's book.

I think Dan Brown is a terribly bad writer, but he has cliffhangers after every chapter which makes you continue reading," Skarsgard told Swedish broadcaster SVT. "It's like eating peanuts at a bar. You don't like them, but you keep on eating them anyway," he said.

The Swedish actor, who plays the head of the pope's Swiss guard in the movie, said director Ron Howard's script was significantly different from the book.

"Angels & Demons" is better than the first film, Skarsgard said in the interview aired late Wednesday, because "the story is more simple and straightforward but just as dramatic."

Although "Angels & Demons" preceded "The Da Vinci Code" in book form, the film is positioned as a sequel to take advantage of the strained relationship between Langdon and the Vatican - only this time, it's his expertise the folks there reluctantly need.

With the pope dead and the College of Cardinals about to meet in conclave to choose a replacement, a secret society known as the Illuminati has kidnapped the four likeliest candidates.

Langdon is brought in to decipher clues at various churches and historical sites throughout Rome to prevent the killing of the cardinals, one every hour, leading to a bomb explosion at the Vatican.

In bestseller lists released Thursday, "Angels & Demons" was at the top of Publishers' Weekly list of mass market paperbacks and number 10 on USA Today's fiction list.

The brouhaha over "The Da Vinci Code" has long since abated among Catholics, albinos and "Code" purists, although Howard did try to reignite the controversy earlier this month when he claimed in interviews that the Vatican tried to block him from filming parts of the sequel in Rome.

As for the critics, many appear to like this film better than it's predecessor, which earned $77 million in domestic ticket sales and $224 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

In his Sunday Morning review, David Edelstein says Howard does a hundred times better with "Angels & Demons" than "The Da Vinci Code. He says, "This movie is shapely and stylish and very, very scary - and Hanks has much better hair!"