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'Inferno' a hot mess

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Latest Dan Brown adaptation chaotic, convoluted

Franchise-building is a big part of the current Hollywood business model. It's not just about the movie we see, but those that preceded it and those that are to follow. Sometimes, this results in a rich and detailed cinematic world. Other times, it devolves into a downward spiral of diminishing returns.

Unfortunately, 'Inferno' the third Dan Brown best-seller featuring symbologist Robert Langdon to make the leap to the big screen is very much of the latter persuasion.

It shouldn't be the case. You've got two of the most likable guys in Hollywood onboard one in front of the camera in Tom Hanks, the other behind it in Ron Howard. These are widely-respected, extremely gifted professionals we're talking about here. And Dan Brown might not be everybody's cup of tea, but he's popular for a reason he gives people stories they enjoy.

But 'Inferno' just doesn't work. It hits the ground limping, strewing the narrative with unnecessary confusion right out of the gate. It tries to operate at a pace that it doesn't earn, resulting in an experience that is jarringly frenetic. And the story is so full of convolution and holes that even trying to take it seriously is a challenge.

Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital. He has no idea where he is or how he got there he has suffered a head wound and is dealing with memory loss. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones, 'Collide') is the attending physician one who happens to be a fan of Langdon's work with symbols and puzzles and whatnot.

But when a police officer shows up to collect Langdon, only to start shooting up the place, it becomes clear that Langdon is deep into something sinister. He goes on the run with Dr. Brooks, hoping to figure out who is after him and what it is that brought him here (here being Italy, because it's a Dan Brown story and Europe is where history is).

He discovers a puzzle, because of course there's a puzzle, involving the works of Dante and the shadowy plans of a bioengineering billionaire named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster, 'Hell or High Water'). Zobrist has long espoused extreme solutions to the problems of overpopulation and it appears that he started the process of initiating one of those solutions releasing a highly-contagious and largely fatal virus called Inferno.

Also, the World Health Organization is involved including an agent with questionable motives (Omar Sy, 'Burnt') and a former intimate of Langdon's named Elizabeth (Sidse Babett Knudson, TV's 'Westworld') who just happens to run the whole show. There's also a shadowy high-tech security organization led by the enigmatic Mr. Sims (Irrfan Khan, 'Jurassic World') at work behind the scenes.

Through it all, it's a race against time for Langdon to work his way through the literary and artistic puzzles laid before him so that he might put a stop to this mad plan before it's too late. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends Langdon doesn't know who to trust. But he has to trust someone or billions will die.

Trust me it's not nearly as exciting as it might sound.

'Inferno' is ostensibly an action thriller, albeit one that's light on action and even lighter on thrills. It's what one imagines you'd get if someone said 'Make an action movie for old people.' It's the sort of story that doesn't really seem to understand how twists work and doesn't care all that much. A cadre of characters that are all supposed to be supergenius-types making stupid decisions decisions that aren't even bad so much as utterly ludicrous. Motivations turn on a dime with little explanation. Actually, 'little explanation' could be argued as a foundational tenet for this movie; it just careens around for reasons justified by throwaway dialogue if at all.

Look I like Tom Hanks. I think he's an incredible talent one of our best and by all accounts a heck of a nice guy. I don't begrudge him sticking this one out to get some of that sweet franchise money; he absolutely deserves it. But this? He can do better than this. Don't get me wrong he gives it his all and is surprisingly watchable considering the circumstances. But maybe it's time to put Robert Langdon to bed and see if Marvel's got anything for him.

Jones is a legitimately talented actress who is stuck in a flavorless role. There's nothing for her to really latch onto here, so ultimately, she simply drifts through the narrative. She's working hard, but the payoff isn't there. Foster is weirdly apt as the creepshow billionaire/erstwhile supervillain; he's a cardboard cutout, but he's so good that it works. The cast in general does its best, but they're mostly left skidding along the surface.

This is far and away Howard's least-successful effort in the trilogy. There's a laziness to the film that just doesn't jibe with what he usually brings to the table. Some of the blame can be laid on David Koepp's exposition-laden script seriously, nothing kills the mood like a 30-second speech about what's going to happenunless it's a 30-second speech that describes what just happened. 'Inferno' has far too many of both. The inconsistent tone and disengaged choices really drag the whole thing down.

'Inferno' just isn't any good. It's somehow both frantic and dull, with layers of convolution that come off as forced rather than engaging. The narrative is thin and the direction is uninspiring. It is bland, boring and just kind ofbad.

So steer clear. Don't let yourself get burned by this one.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:30

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