This high-tech thriller tie-in to the international phenomenon and airport staple known as The DaVinci Code opens with forensic anthropologist C. Thomas Howell and a ski-masked crew breaking into a private residence to rifle through DaVinci artifacts including spectacles ("optics"), and pilfer a page from the artist's notebooks that contains the lost DaVinci Code...x, it's a codex he's looking for, not a code, just to clear that up, legally-speaking. The codex, if properly used, can unlock the path to a great if vague treasure, one worth killing for, as C. Tom soon learns.
After barely escaping with the codex and his life when one of his team turns on him, C. Tom runs smack into a Mafioso-style anthropologist/old rival (Lance Henriksen) who wants two things: C. Tom to join his team of highly-skilled relic hunters, and the codex. Clearly, however, he has a preference should only one of these things be available. See, in Lance's head the treasure should be his because he's been looking for it longer, and C. Tom's just one more obstacle in his way, one that he can take or leave. But, in typically foolish bad guy behavior, Lance gets the codex but not C. Tom, yet leaves him alive to thwart another day. Enter the final, and only reliable, member of C. Tom's own team, a stunning linguist/theologian (Nicole Sherwin) who's more than disappointed at the codex lack.
And all this - the first nine minutes - is just the opening sequence.
The gist of the plot is this: several hundred years ago, the rich and powerful House of Medici had this awesome treasure hidden away so well that the most capable kings and armies could never find it, thanks to one of the architects of this plan, none other than famed artist/inventor/thinker/turtle-inspiration Leonardo DaVinci, who, being the shrewd man he was, secretly left clues to the whereabouts of said treasure in his work and notes. Thus, there's an entire sub-population of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians who make the quest for this treasure their lives' work, and our characters are among them. C. Tom's quest begins with the Shroud of Turin, the mythical length of fabric said to have been cloaked over the body of Jesus following his crucifixion, and furthermore said to bear an image of the body of Christ, burned there upon his resurrection. At this point in the film there were - like there are here, now - a lot of twists and facts and historical tidbits being bandied about, enough that I got a little lost in exposition, but I think that's the long and the short of it. Regardless of whatever I'm forgetting or omitting, C. Tom and his hottie theologian locate the Shroud and find it provides them with still further questions.
But as our heroes go in search of answers, Lance's goons continue to hunt them down for any new knowledge or artifacts they may have. Lots of Euro-action/intrigue ensues: church basements, stairwell shoot-outs, marketplace foot pursuits, that sort of stuff. Like a Goldberg-puzzle-box (if he ever made any) one clue unlocks the next unlocks the next and so on, resulting in a cleverly-crafted intellectual thriller that to divulge any more details about would be to rob it of its mystery. Needless to say, missed opportunities have to be rectified, rivalries intensify, cars get chased by other cars, and helicopters, shrouds become maps, Afghanistan comes into play, camera obscura gets a lot older, bricks are broken, Jesus gets name-checked a whole bunch and Lance Henriksen rocks a left-earring.
The film is directed by Peter Mervis (Snakes on a Train, When A Killer Calls) in a kind of Bourne-style: intentional glitches, freeze-frames, title readouts, sequence speed-ups and a variety of techno-noises tossed in for good measure. The film has some pretty spectacular action sequences and excellent pacing; the momentum never ebbs, building from the first scene to the revelatory climax.
This is partially due to the script, and partially to the actors. I'll start with the actors: Committed-fave C. Tom Howell turns in an exuberant, passionate and actively-pensive performance, really bringing his A-game, making him easily more fun to watch than Tom Hanks in the tie-in (I said it.). There's just a gracefulness to him here; it's the most at home I've seen him in a role for The Asylum - including his repeat performance for the wars of worlds.
Lance Henriksen, as always, plays a really believable violent badass, but at the same time, he is not at all believable - not at all - as a guy who gives enough of a fuck about archaeology to get a degree in it. Not that it matters - all-told, Lance isn't in this one more than 10 or 12 minutes.
The lovely lady at C. Tom's side is played by Nicole Sherwin, an actress/TV host/green even expert, whatever the fuck that means. Basically she's eye-candy with an intellect, largely underdeveloped (as a character), and (on the contrary) shows a little too much cleavage for a theologian, I think, though not enough for a linguist, so, balance.
As for the script - co-written by Asylum bigwig Paul Bales (Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes) and scribe Carlos De Los Rios (Pirates of Treasure Island, War of the Worlds, King of the Lost World) - it's nice and tight, riveting in spots, pulse-stirring in others, engaging in others still, dense ("compact," not "stupid") with information but worth negotiating; there are more twists and turns here than a pretzel showcase at the Pennsylvania State Fair.
Put all these elements together and the result is a thoroughly intriguing thriller that recalls not only The DaVinci Code but also National Treasure, and rests comfortably among the best of the straight films (not sexually, I mean films without a supernatural, sci-fi or ruthless manic slant to them) The Asylum has produced. There was a lot of stuff, largely speculative documentaries, that tied-in to The DaVinci Code, so it's not like The Asylum's treading on holy ground here (pun intended); I wasn't distracted by the similarities in the slightest. A good movie is a good movie, no matter where it comes from, and this is a good movie.