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The Celestine Prophecy

Rated PG, 99 min. Directed by Armand Mastroianni. Starring Matthew Settle, Thomas Kretschmann, Sarah Wayne Callies, Annabeth Gish, Hector Elizondo, Joaquim de Almeida, Jürgen Prochnow, John Aylward, Obba Babatundé.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 12, 2006

If you’re hankering for a big-screen adaptation of an internationally, well nigh virulently, popular adventure yarn that aims to debunk religious doctrine … well, hold tight: The Da Vinci Code will be here any day now. Though The Celestine Prophecy (based on James Redfield’s 1995 bestseller) shares many of the same elements – a bookish hero, exotic locales, conspiracy theories, and theological musings – this one plays like bargain-bin remainders (indeed, some of the footage looks like it was shot on The Da Vinci Code’s short ends, with no cash left over for color correction). Pretty but bland Matthew Settle stars as John Woodson, a high school teacher who travels to Peru to investigate some recently unearthed scrolls that date back to 5 B.C. The scrolls, or “Insights,” amount to the title’s prophecy, which predicts a sort of new evolution for humankind. So far, a priest and a group of archaeologists-cum-acolytes have dug up eight of these scrolls; there’s a ninth still to be found, and the group is convinced that John will be key to that discovery. There’s much talk of auras and energy-stealing (illustrated in cheesy, heat-seekinglike special effects), and every 20 minutes or so, a character pops up to recap the Insights, which are meant to function as a spiritual-journey schematic but sound more like a self-help guide to good living. The Celestine Prophecy’s biggest stumbling block (and there are many to choose from) is that the film’s dramatic arc hinges on John’s awakening to the prophecy. But spiritual epiphany is tough to convey onscreen, and near impossible in the hands of wooden actors (many of whom hail from television, and whose presence does not transcend the small screen). Director Mastroianni also hails from television; save a couple of gorgeous aerial shots of the rainforest, he seems ill at ease with a broader canvas. One of his previous gigs was TV’s Touched by an Angel, and I can’t think of a more perfect litmus test: If you were amenable to that show’s New Age hoohah and teeth-rattling treacle, then The Celestine Prophecy should be right up your alley. All others, beware: Outlook is bleak.
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