Film Review: “Inferno”

Film Review: “Inferno”

Once upon a time, Tom Hanks’ leading-man glamour was enough to guarantee big payouts, and plastering his face onto posters for “The Da Vinci Code” birthed a multimillion-dollar franchise. With his easy charm and wit, Hanks steered the mystery-thriller to certain success. “Inferno” is to “The Da Vinci Code” as a turd is to chocolate — deceptively similar, unless you venture a good, long whiff. So, shall we take a bite?

Robert Langdon, our beleaguered hero and Harvard professor of symbology — why not just call him a semiotician, Dan? — has returned to Italy once again. Unfortunately, Rob finds himself in dire straits, injured and suffering from a mild case of retrograde amnesia — better known as plot-induced incompetence. He’s cared for by a wide-eyed Felicity Jones, masquerading as the ever-so-brilliant and youthful doctor Sienna Brooks. It’s hardly a surprise then that the situation must go tits-up by the end of the first act; an assassin (Ana Ularu) barges into the hospital, shoots an orderly, and galvanizes Rob and Sienna into making their inevitable escape.

The two take refuge in Sienna’s trendy flat, soon discovering an image projector in Rob’s coat pocket that depicts Botticelli’s “Map of Hell.” Hidden changes to the painting reveal a message from transhumanist billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), recently deceased. His going-away gift? A deadly virus to cull the world’s population by over 90 percent, and thereby reduce the devastation humanity has wrought upon our environment. With a better screenwriter, or a better novel, such a premise might promise more — an intriguing debate on our prodigious population explosion and the most moral means to manage it, a clash of ethics and an exploration of underclass exploitation.

Instead, “Inferno” has excellent flyover visuals of Florence, Venice and Istanbul, a great many chase scenes crammed into little over two hours of film and an uncomfortable repartee between two gifted actors forced to spew rubbish lines. Hanks and Jones only just manage to carry trite dialogue by the grace of their combined likability and skill.

Everyone wears well-tailored suits and speaks in exotic languages, like Italian, Russian or even French. People exchange solemn glances and walk purposefully toward historical sites with very foreign names. Tellingly, “Inferno” often feels like a child’s conception of a grown-up story: secret messages, villains in tuxes, the dastardly “Consortium,” visions of apocalypse, cackling mad scientists! By the time the climax rolls around, if the film had allowed itself a smidgen more humor, or wry self-awareness, it could fall into a proper camp parody of the genre.

A mystery must be generous with its audience, granting it the necessary means to solve the puzzle it poses. “Inferno” runs on the fumes of tawdry scenarios, a thriller with no thrills and no means of predicting what will transpire. Well, isn’t that part of the appeal? It would be, if director Ron Howard didn’t slap on increasingly convoluted turns and revelations, overburdening his audience with ever more garish deceits. “Inferno” lacks the requisite fire, and digs its own grave with gusto.


Rating: D
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan
Release Date: November 28, 2016
Rated: PG-13

Image Courtesy of AceShowBiz

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