'Inferno' (Official trailer)
At its best, “Inferno” proves to be a compelling, jet-setting adventure. Most of the time, however, you’ll feel as if you were punched in the face, locked into one of those escape rooms and forced to watch other people solve cryptic clues you can’t possibly understand.
For this convoluted third film adapted from the fourth novel in Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” franchise, Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, the globe’s most dogged Ivy League symbologist. He awakens in a hospital, informed he is suffering from head trauma and mild amnesia, and attempts to piece together such basic things as what he’s doing in Florence, Italy.
Helping him find that reality is medical prodigy Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who barely has time to introduce herself before they are being hunted by a chic assassin (Ana Ularu).
Langdon discovers he’s embroiled in a plot to thwart a deadly virus engineered by an alarmist billionaire (Ben Foster) who believes “mankind is the cancer in its own body.” Also in pursuit are a tactical unit of World Health Organization operatives led by Langdon’s former flame (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and a SPECTRE-like cabal headed by a ruthless fixer (Irrfan Khan).
Can the professor unravel brainteasers involving the masterworks of Dante and Botticelli before this pandemic is triggered?
It has been a full decade since director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) introduced Langdon to theatrical audiences. The franchise has seen critical indifference and respectable box office (although second installment “Angels & Demons” didn’t even earn back its domestic budget). Yet the global interest appears lucrative enough to keep the series going. Thus, Hanks and Howard bring a workmanlike professionalism to the material, never rising above the book.
Hanks delivered more wit and energy in a single sketch during last week’s hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” than he does in this staid academic role. Adding Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything” and the upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) sounds promising, yet she shares scant chemistry with her co-star. There’s almost a disconnect, as if they retreated to their separate trailers without speaking between shots.
Howard and veteran screenwriter David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) grant this comely overachiever who’s “crazy about puzzles” a hint of intrigue by initially parading her obsessive-compulsive disorder — she meticulously lines up items in her apartment after Langdon knocks them out of place. But that aspect is never brought up again, even when she embarks on an unplanned whirlwind excursion that would cause someone with actual OCD to seek hospitalization.
Speaking of which … Howard spends the first 15 minutes of “Inferno” trying to replicate Langdon’s disorientation for the viewer. He blurs conversations, distorts the frame and adds in a high-pitched ringing. Then he introduces surreal visions of blood, fire, torture and biblical monstrosities.
The approach is so cinematically unpleasant that it could be a sequel to the latest “Blair Witch.”
Ultimately, the most impressive contribution to this movie is by the dozen or more location managers, who helped showcase the splendor of Florence, Venice and Istanbul (plus Budapest standing in for those cities when necessary). The production received almost unfettered access to dazzling Renaissance-era masterworks and environments that lesser projects would have to fake with green screens.
During one of the film’s quieter exchanges, Dr. Brooks tells Langdon, “You talk too much. And then not at all.”
That about sums up “Inferno,” a movie loaded with plenty of noise that has nothing to say.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:01.