Movie Review: “Inferno”

Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu
Ron Howard

It’s been seven years since the world last saw a film based on author Dan Brown’s renowned symbologist Robert Langdon. The last installment, “Angels & Demons,” had a worldwide box office gross nearly $300 million less than its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code.” That sounds bad, but to be fair, “Angels” still took in nearly half a billion dollars, so even if the idea of a Langdon film in 2016 seems unthinkable for a number of reasons (time, diminishing returns), money clearly did most of the talking when it came to green lighting the latest film, “Inferno.” And for a while, the movie distances itself from the first two films thanks to a breakneck opening pace, only to turn into the Dan Browniest Dan Brown adaptation to date halfway through and grind to a screeching halt.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up dazed in a hospital, suffering from head trauma and trying to put together the missing pieces between the present and his previous memory from three days earlier. Almost immediately after he wakes up, there is an attempt on his life by a policewoman, but Robert’s attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), helps him escape and brings him to her apartment, where Robert discovers that in the pocket of his coat is a vial used to transport lethal pathogens.

Inside the tube is a clue left for Robert by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who’s known for his incendiary speeches warning against the overpopulation of the planet and the need for a correction in order to prevent the complete extinction of the human race. Robert concludes that Bertrand, who committed suicide two days earlier, has created and hidden a deadly virus designed to “solve” the overpopulation problem, but in his search for the clues to find the virus, Robert has the police, a compromised World Health Organization and a third party of questionable intent hunting him at the same time.

Ron Howard directs the ever-loving shit out of the first 30 minutes of this movie. Disjointed flashbacks, apocalyptic bits filled with horrific imagery, shots almost completely awash in light…it feels like there is a good 10-minute stretch where he doesn’t go more than a couple seconds without doing something showy. It’s gorgeous and exhausting at the same time, but there’s a hint of desperation to it as well, as if Howard is trying just a bit too hard to prove his relevance, and it’s not hard to see why. His last great film (in this writer’s opinion) was “Frost/Nixon.” That was eight years ago, nearly a decade. Dude needs a hit, both critically and commercially.

The one advantage Howard has in the first act is that Langdon is shaken and off his game. That uncertainty, combined with the repeated attempts on his life, postpones the trappings of a Dan Brown story for a while. Eventually, though, Langdon gets time to breathe, and immediately afterwards, the expository dialogue commences (the part of Da Vinci is played by Dante in this episode). From that moment, the movie is dead in the water (a phrase that’s even funnier if you see the movie). It tries to throw the audience some surprises, but it doesn’t seem to realize that it telegraphs all of these surprises well in advance.

“Inferno” is a movie without a country. Its author’s sell-by date has long passed, and its director and lead actor have taken big hits to their Q factor. Felicity Jones raises the hip quotient a tad, but everything else about this movie is living on borrowed time. We suggested that Howard and Hanks walk away from this franchise after “Angels & Demons,” and again, that was seven years ago. Too little, too late.