There are two things that the opening credits of Ron Howard’s Inferno tell us immediately about this third Dan Brown novel adaptation: this is a movie that takes itself very seriously and isn’t going to be any fun at all. We’re introduced to Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire guru (played by a one-note Ben Foster) who explains to a captivated audience that the world is overpopulated and in need of cleansing. Not long after this charming declaration, Zobrist leaps to his death. Meanwhile, a nurse (Felicity Jones) takes in a wounded Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who is suffering from amnesia and a rotation of chaotically filmed hallucinations.
Jones brings so much grit and intrigue to her character that she manages to finally give her co-star a worthy accomplice for Langdon (my apologies to Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer, the former Langdon Girls). Her performance is the best thing about this unconvincing dud.
Hanks is one of my favorite movie stars and seems as genuine and charming in real life as he does on screen. Yet, he’s not an actor who can vanish into any role he plays. When he’s the wrong man for the job, the strain shows and it’s in plain view from start to finish of Inferno. Brown’s described Langdon in the opening pages of The Da Vinci Code as “Harrison Ford in tweed.” Ford could have done this movie with one hand tied behind his back. Seeing Hanks wake up in a hospital bed, frantic and ready to take action, is unconvincing. Then again, most of Inferno is either too confusing or reliant on incidents that are hard to swallow.
I tend to give movies like this a break when it comes to being “realistic” but this one kept cornering me into accepting impossibilities even Ethan Hunt couldn’t pull off. If someone can tell me how Langdon achieves that Houdini-like reverse-thievery in the final scene, I’ll buy you a Blu-ray of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a better version of this movie.
Although the first two Robert Langdon thrillers dealt with religion, this one goes in a different direction. The topic isn’t religious faith but fanaticism and acts of terrorism. The immediacy of the story should be jolting but it never gels. Langdon’s dreams include campy sights like a snake and a syringe suddenly appearing in someone’s neck.
Hanz Zimmer’s theme to The Da Vinci Code is one of the most gorgeous of modern movie compositions and it’s a pleasure hearing it again over the end credits. Unfortunately, the rest of his score is uninspired and overly frenzied. The same goes for the editing, which hurts the film right out of the starting gate. The quick cuts, shaky camera and CGI-enhanced fuzziness seems to have been implemented to keep Langdon’s ghastly visions blurry and the film’s PG-13 rating intact. The same goes for the action sequences, which are never properly staged or paced. Once we get to the big climax, it comes across like a random assembly of shots where actors are running down pathways. Although the whole world is in jeopardy, it feels like very little is at stake.
Inferno is easily the darkest and most violent of the three Langdon films and this poses a problem for Howard. The director of Cocoon and A Beautiful Mind has never been especially good at getting edgy (his The Missing and Ransom were especially strained attempts). He’s far better at delivering nail-biting action sequences and maintaining suspense. Any of the best scenes from Howard’s Backdraft, Rush, Willow or Far And Away outshine every intended action set-piece from this (and every other Langdon movie, for that matter).
I’m sorry, Opie. I typically love your work but these Dan Brown movies just aren’t your thing.
One and a Half Stars