Marking Tom Hanks’ third adventure as “The Da Vinci Code’s” Robert Langdon, “Inferno” isn’t so hot. Director Ron Howard has paced the movie like one extended chase, but despite plentiful action, it’s generally about as suspenseful as an art-history lesson.
The ho-hum feel can’t be blamed on novelist Dan Brown, since no one could prod him to “raise the stakes,” to use a popular note in Hollywood pitch meetings. The plot involves a pathogen intended to decimate half of the human race, the brainchild of a crazed billionaire (is there any other kind such movies?) who’s convinced that to save the planet, Earth must significantly thin the herd.
Said billionaire, named Zobrist (Ben Foster), has conveniently left behind a trail of breadcrumbs, one seemingly designed to be deciphered by Langdon, the noted professor of symbology. As constructed in this outing (with a screenplay by David Koepp, who also wrote “Angels & Demons”), there’s an added degree of difficulty: Langdon awakens in a Florence hospital, having sustained a head trauma, leaving gaping holes in his memory about what happened.
Langdon gradually gets caught up regarding what he missed via distorted flashbacks and images, a device that grows tedious rather quickly, and subjects the audience to a lot of quick editing cuts and dissonance.
On top of that, someone looks determined to kill the poor prof, who flees with help from a doctor, Sienna (Felicity Jones). The two investigate a string of clues related to Dante’s Inferno, which mostly provides an excuse for racing through an assortment of striking European locales.
The setting not only reflects Langdon’s specialty, but also current movie industry priorities. “Inferno” has already opened in Europe and scored a sizable box-office haul there, with the project’s viability on the global market explaining why Hanks has been enlisted to reprise a role for which few people stateside appeared to be clamoring.
Hanks’ brilliant, Sherlock Holmes-like character again winds up spouting a lot of convoluted-sounding dialogue – occasionally at inopportune times – while surrounded by a solid international cast. That includes not only Jones – destined for a busy stretch with “Rogue One” about to launch – but also Irrfan Khan as a shadowy operative who injects a wry wit into the festivities.
“You are humanity’s final hope,” Zobrist warns at the outset of the overpopulation threat. Perhaps so, but after the opening weekend, “Inferno” probably won’t need to fret much about overcrowded theaters.
“Inferno” opens in the U.S. on October 28. It’s rated PG-13.