FILM REVIEW – INFERNO. With Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy. Written by David Koepp. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality. 121 minutes.
Certain authors are never going to be considered for Pulitzer or Nobel prizes, but they turn out popular page-turners which provide their fans with a good deal of entertainment. That’s not a knock. Being entertaining is a positive virtue for a novelist. Unfortunately, if they get very popular, sometimes those books get turned into movies.
Such is the case with Dan Brown, whose “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” were brought to the screen by director Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks as “symbologist” Robert Langdon. The latest adaptation, INFERNO, is a film whose plot doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny, so check your brains at the door and just hang on for the ride.
It starts off promisingly enough. Langdon wakes up in a hospital, having someone how escaped a shooting and kidnapping with minor wounds and temporary amnesia. When an Italian police officer opens fire on him, he manages to get away with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). Soon they are uncovering a series of cryptic clues that lead them bouncing around Europe from churches to museums to prevent a plot that may unleash untold death on the planet.
Why Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), whose suicide kicks off the story, would engage in such a roundabout and overly complicated version of the movie “National Treasure” is a question we’re not to ask. If you can’t help questioning things, you’ll find that the whole film falls apart. There’s no reason for the obscure clues nor is it likely that even a “symbologist” would so quickly deduce the answers.
To make matters worse, there are a number of people chasing after them, all working at cross purposes, from a private fixer (Irrfan Khan), the World Health Organization, and a WHO agent (Omar Sy) who may have his own agenda. Characters change sides and motivations with ease, and Langdon’s genius apparently includes having memorized the secret passages in every building they visit. Watching them elude the authorities again and again makes you wonder why such foiling such a dangerous plot would be left in the hands of such amateurs.
The problem is less the professionalism of the people involved in the film than that they’re stuck with the preposterous plot. Hanks, so good in the recent “Sully,” gives Langdon the same serious performance even though Langdon is closer to a comic book superhero than a three-dimensional figure. Jones gets her moments as his sidekick, although even she can’t bring off everything required of her character.
The location shooting in Italy and Turkey makes for a colorful travelogue, but it’s not enough to make us believe the utterly preposterous goings-on. “Inferno” is a fast-paced timewaster for those viewers undemanding enough not to care about plot, character, or logic. That’s great in a book on the beach or the airport, but you’ll have to decide how much it’s worth at the movies.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.