Producers: Alina Hleap, Rich Cowan, Augusto Pelliccia and Enrique Cerezo    Director: Sergio Dow   Screenplay: Sergio Dow and Carmen López   Cast: Richard Armitage, Amaia Salamanca, Paul Guilfoyle, Fionnula Flanagan, Paul Freeman, Rodolfo Sancho, Carlos Cuevas, Jorge Sanz, Féodor Atkine, Víktor Mallarino, Alicia Borrachero, Unax Ugalde, Will Keen and Franco Nero   Distributor: Screen Media

Grade: D+

Perhaps the 1996 source novel “La piel del tambor” by prolific Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte (one can well understand why the English translation changed the title to “The Seville Communion”) was an effective page-turner, but as adapted by Sergio Dow as “The Man from Rome,” it’s barely penetrable as narrative and quite dull to boot—a perfect reflection of its flat new title.

It begins at the Vatican, where the security team manning a battery of computer monitors cannot stop a hacker from getting a message to the pope (Franco Nero)—not a threat, but a plea to investigate suspicious deaths at The Church of Our Lady of Tears in Seville, an ancient edifice threatened with being razed for a new development.  The pope instructs his head of intelligence, Monsignor Spada (Paul Guilfoyle) to look into the matter, and he sends his best agent Father Quart (Richard Armitage), a former soldier, to Seville, where he meets hostility from the archbishop (Will Keen) but gets help from an old friend, Detective Fazil (Jorge Sanz).

Quart presses on, though he’s also greeted angrily by fiery Father Ferro (Paul Freeman), pastor of the venerable church.  American expert Gris Marsala (Alicia Borrachero), who’s restoring the place to its former glory, is far friendlier.  So is Macarena Bruner (Amaia Salamanca), the aristocratic woman spearheading an effort to preserve the church, though her ex-husband Pencho (Rodolfo Sancho), an ambitious banker, is behind a project that would replace it with a skyscraper complex.  Macarena is aided in her efforts by her elderly but determined mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who also supports Father Ferro in his astronomical observations, providing a tower in her mansion to house his telescope.

As director Dow lets all this unfold at a drowsy tempo, allowing scenes to proceed without much vigor and run on too long.  There are periodic interruptions of action as Quart has to deal with a trio of inept thugs in Pencho’s employ, but they’re not choreographed particularly well.

An attempt is also made to generate suspense by adding a subplot regarding possible skullduggery in the finances of the Vatican Bank—an allusion to actual scandals—which suggests that Quart might not be able to trust some of the people closest to him.  But that all turns out to be an exercise in simple misdirection. 

The particulars of the corrupt designs on the Church in Seville, the rationale behind them, and the identities of the hacker and the persons responsible for the deaths that initiated the investigation are all laboriously spelled out in the end, thanks not merely to the efforts of the indefatigable Quart but the assistance provided to him in the last act by Father Cooley (Carlos Cuevas), a Vatican tech master he calls in from Rome to apply his computer skills to the case.  Everything is capped off by another application—of priestly absolution–that pretty much makes a mockery of the sacrament it’s associated with.  (The episode acts as a sort of bookend to the movie, which begins with Quart being absolved in the confessional for his failure in a previous mission, one involving a priest in Brazil that’s never fully revealed, serving merely as an explanation for Quart’s world-weariness and general angst.)  That’s part of Pérez-Reverte’s distaste for the ecclesiastical establishment in general and the inner workings of the Vatican in particular.

Armitage plods his way through the picture with a dogged determination that’s rather boring, and some in the supporting cast are encouraged to go to such broad extremes that they become caricatures; Sancho is the most obvious example—he does everything but twirl his mustache—and at first Freeman is equally strident, though he settles down later.  Many of the other actors give halting, amateurish performances (Salamanca, most notably).  But Cuevas adds a note of welcome levity to the proceedings, and Guilfoyle brings a sardonic twinkle to his scenes, as if inviting us in on a private joke.  Though she doesn’t have much to do but project aristocratic grandeur, it’s nice to see Flanagan so elegantly dressed.

One might have expected more to have been done with the Seville locations, but apart from a few establishing shots of the cityscape and the interior of the Church, Manuel Ludeña’s production design and Aitor Mantxola’s cinematography are drab.  The lackadaisical editing by Pablo Blanco and Miguel Ángel Prieto accentuates Dow’s tendency to laggard pacing rather than mitigating it, while Roque Baños’ score adds little to the energy level.

If one’s a fan of Pérez-Reverte’s books, “The Man from Rome” may be worth a look, if only to bemoan how badly one’s been handled.  Otherwise, you can safely skip this tedious would-be thriller.