The new movie with Tom Hanks as James Bond and the Catholic Church as SMERSH is about to hit the theatres, if you care. It is called Angels & Demons , or The Further Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk as told to Dan Brown and Exhibited in a Narrative of The Secret Deeds of the Roman Church .

From the indefatigable Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights you can get a punchy pamphlet about the errors of the new film, as well as a pamphlet on its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code . If the Catholic League’s style is not to your taste and you’d prefer a suaver skewering of writer Dan Brown and director Ron Howard and their works and ways, one can be found in The New Yorker magazine, in Anthony Lane’s review of the first film back in 2006. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. (Personally, what disturbed me most in the first film was the hairstyle inflicted on star Tom Hanks: it was a sort of academician’s mullet that resembled nothing seen before on a human head.)

Judging by the trailer for the new film, the hair-stylists have solved that problem and Hanks is again tonsorially presentable, which is reassuring. I don’t mind Hollywood wasting its millions dramatizing ersatz history. At history they are supposed to be amateurs. At hair, however, they are supposed to be professionals. I don’t even mind so much the Catholic-bashing. They seem to have plenty of money to throw at the Catholic problem, but not much intelligence or artistry to spare in combating it. If people like these despise the Catholic Church, maybe the Church is doing something right.

Here is something weird, however. In search of some nighttime relaxation I was watching a pro basketball game on TV. The NBA playoffs are on, endlessly on, their slogan of “40 Games - 40 Nights” echoing (to what purpose I cannot imagine) the forty days and forty nights of ceaseless rain reported in the Book of Genesis. (“Still raining out there, honey?” “Watching basketball again, dear?”)

Innocently watching, as I say, the basketball game, I was treated to a bizarre vision that proved to be an advertisement for Angels & Demons & Basketball all at the same time. Thirty seconds of images flashed across the screen: a demonic mask—an athlete’s face—a priest—a point guard—LeBron—Hanks—Kobe—Hanks—a dunk, a flame, a dive, a whirl—with music rising and voices declaring that the world is waiting to hear the truth, the truth, the truth . . .  

At Adfreak.com, David Griner describes it this way:

Here’s another case of strange marketing bedfellows, as TNT and Sony Pictures team up to cross-promote the NBA playoffs and the movie Angels & Demons . The resulting mashup is interesting and well-edited, if a bit disorienting. Personally, I think it would have been improved with a shot of LeBron James busting through the Papal enclave’s zone defense, dunking into a baptismal font and yelling that the Apostolic Palace is his house.

At Adfrreak it’s all about style. But what, if anything, is the substance? If the Hanks film is about one brave man’s struggle for truth and justice against an oppressive and murderous monolithic institution—I guess I’m not seeing immediately the validity of the willed parallelisms in this video commercial. In his intercut shots, Hanks the hero must struggle against villainous forces (we see sinister clerics, ancient parchments, sudden explosions). Meanwhile the athletes, in their intercut shots, jumping over and dunking on one another, are all heroes struggling against fellow heroes; there is not a villain, overt or covert, in the vicinity.

Perhaps the message that the promoters had in mind is that if you like NBA action you’ll like our movie’s action and vice versa. But NBA fans are quick—thirty seconds is enough for us to recognize that there is no symmetry between the products being peddled. Did I turn to my buddy and say, ‘Dude, we’ve gotta see that film”? No, I didn’t. I didn’t have a buddy with me. Had my buddy been with me, I would have said, “Dude, what a dumb commercial.”

Of course, to pronounce it dumb is not to pronounce it a failure. It got my attention—I’m telling you about it—and maybe it will sell a few tickets. But the attempt at a superficial parallelism between two products that have nothing in common so reeks of shoddy opportunism and careless cynicism that the deeper message is unmistakable: The promoters of the film don’t take their own film seriously, and we need not either.

Which, after all, is probably as it should be. But hey, Mister Advertiser, one thing: If you can’t respect the Church, and you can’t respect your film—you should, at least, respect the game.

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