Early reviews from the Cannes Film Festival are not encouraging. "The Da Vinci Code" was supposed to make a big bang with its worldwide premiere here in the U.S. Instead, it's more like a whimper.
“It's not suspenseful, it's not romantic, it's certainly not fun,” said Stephen Schaefer, a film critic for the Boston Herald. “It seems like you're in there forever, and you're just conscious of how hard everybody's working to try to make sense out of something that's basically perhaps unfilmable."
Ever since the stunning success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" two years ago, the major studios have been courting religious moviegoers with films ranging from "The Chronicles of Narnia" to "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."
“’The Passion’ really showed, I think, studio executives there's a place between L.A. and New York,” said producer and director Phil Cooke. “And there's a lot of people there and they want religious content."
Sony spent a reported $125 million making “The Da Vinci Code” and millions more to market the film. Amid talk of a potential boycott by Christian groups, the studio launched a Web site for religious leaders to discuss and debate the film's controversial premise -- that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene married and had a child.
“I think Sony's done a very good job trying to engage the Christian community here,” said Cooke. “Controversy's better than no publicity at all. And so they knew that if they got people talking, it would create the buzz that it's generated up to now."
After disappointing openings for Paramount's "Mission: Impossible 3" and Warner Brothers’ "Poseidon," Hollywood is desperate for a hit to kick summer moviegoing into high gear. And the pressure is on Sony to save the season from another disaster like last summer -- when ticket sales sank into a 19-week slump.
“So far, it's been a little lackluster,” said Walt Borchers, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Movietickets.com. “But I think you're going to see some big numbers from 'Da Vinci' -- and with the sequels coming up, the new 'Pirates,' 'Superman Begins,' 'X-Men,' along with 'Cars' -- we're expecting a pretty big box office."
Sony is counting on a big built-in audience for “The Da Vinci Code” based on the more than 60 million copies of the book printed so far. But the movie has just two weeks to prove itself before the next summer tentpole film -- "X-Men III" -- hits theatres.
Opening weekend estimates for "The Da Vinci Code" are between $80 million and $90 million, which would make it one of the biggest summer openings ever. But anything short of those high expectations will likely be considered a disappointment -- and a troubling sign for the rest of Hollywood's summer.