A better title for “Inferno,” the latest big screen exploits of symbology professor Robert Langdon, might have been “The Da Vinci Code: This Time it's Personal.” Not only must Langdon, once again in the form of Tom Hanks, confront an old love but he also must dig deep into his shattered memory to piece together the clues of his greatest mystery ever.
Or something like that.
The convoluted story begins with bioengineer and billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) spewing his extreme theories on the planet’s problems. “Every ill on earth can be traced back to overpopulation,” he says. In the space of just twenty four hours Zobrist drops out of the picture, and Langdon is found disoriented and put under the care of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). “What am I doing in Florence?” he asks. Suffering from retrograde amnesia and terrifying visions of a hellish nature, people with heads twisted back to front, seas of fire, pools of blood and serpents, he struggles to remember the events of the last forty-eight hours.
With the help of Brooks he goes on the run from a determined assassin (Ana Ularu) and the World Health Organization until he can gather the clues that will lead him to the Inferno Virus, a plague planted by Zobrist to cull the world’s population by half. “Humanity is the disease,” he cackles, “Inferno is the cure.”
Add in close calls, narrow escapes and clues hidden in Italian antiquities and you have “Inferno,” the thriller with no clue how to be thrilling. Instead it’s two hours of exposition, a lesson in Botticelli and Dante. Whatever thrills there were to be mined from David Koepp’s script are blunted by director Ron Howard’s habit of showing and telling clues and info over and over, not trusting the viewer to be able to follow along. With convoluted clues and lots of Italian names and places to keep track of “Inferno” repeats information ad nauseam.
This is the third time Hanks has played Langdon but in the fullness of time I don't think we'll look back on the symbologist as the actor’s most memorable character. He carries the movies, which have made hundreds of millions of dollars, but he's less a character then he is an exposition machine, an explainer of obscure history, a purveyor of aha moments. Hanks is a charmer, but he’s done in trying to wade through the movie’s scripting mire.
Sharing the screen is Jones, soon to be seen in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” As Dr. Brooks she is Langdon’s intellectual match and one of the dual engines that keeps the story plodding along, but spends most of the film nodding in agreement to Langdon’s sudden, remarkable realisations.
As the villain Foster’s few appearances—he’s peppered throughout usually appearing in video clips, is further proof that Hollywood doesn't know what to do with this talented actor.
More fun is Irrfan Khan as the calm, cool and collected head of a mysterious group that manages risks for high profile clients. He’s deadly, duplicitous and James Bond villain suave.
The obvious joke here is that “Inferno” is clueless. But it’s not, it’s overstuffed with clues, just not thrills.