INFERNO (2016) – Review
So what is essential to big box office stars in this day and age? Besides loads of charisma and the ability to not bump into furniture, or other actors, while delivering dialogue? Why, you’ve got to be part of a franchise, one that will reap lots of follow-ups and even prequels (merchandising can be pretty great too). And if you’re really a superstar, you’ve got more than one franchise. The king might be Harrison Ford who was part of the Star Wars and Jack Ryan series, and who promises to return as Indiana Jones. And he may just have a fourth with a new Blade Runner flick (35 years since the original). Last week Tom Cruise starred in a second Jack Reacher thriller as he’s prepping another Mission Impossible entry. This week, another Tom (Hanks) is back on-screen after only a month or so since the biopic SULLY with the third film in his live-action franchise (the other one being the TOY STORY series in which he provides the voice of Woody). It’s been seven years since Mr. H has stepped into the very worn shoes of globe-trotting historian Robert Langdon, the hero of Dan Brown’s best-selling novels. First was THE DA VINCI CODE, then ANGELS & DEMONS, and now he faces an INFERNO.
Langdon is not the first face at the start of this thriller. We meet billionaire/bio-engineer Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) as he delivers a “TED-like” speech to a large, throughly engaged audience. As a huge monitor behind him displays gritty news footage, Zobrist warns of the dangers of over-population. Cut to him being chased through exotic streets by sinister agents, a chase that ends at the pinnacle of a tower, where Zobrist plunges to his death before he can be captured. Cut to Langdon (Hanks) as he suffers through many gruesome dream images (scarred faces, explosions of blood) before finally waking up in an Italian hospital bed (as in Florence, Italy). The American has no idea what’s he’s doing there until his British doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) explains that a bullet grazed his skull causing temporary amnesia. As Langdon slowly gets his bearings, a policewoman is spraying bullets in the corridor outside his room. Langdon and Brooks flee to her apartment as his memory begins to return, He finds a tiny tube in his pocket which projects a painting that depicts Dante’s version of Hell. Finding Zobrist’s signature on the image, Langdon realizes that he’s on a mission to decipher clues as to the location of the billionaire’s final project: a super-virus attached to a timer that will wipe out half of the world (“better that than face complete extinction in 100 years”). The historian and the doctor embark on a race against the clock while being pursued by dogged World Health Organization agents ( Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and a criminal kingpin (Irrfan Khan).
These films have given the ever-entertaining Hanks a chance to be something of an action hero, albeit one that’s not proficient in weapons or combat. That could make for an interesting franchise focus, but for most of INFERNO, Langdon is dazed and confused, and a sweaty bloody mess. When he’s not trying to regain consciousness, Hanks is on an endless treadmill with new exotic locals popping up behind him. In the last act, there are flashbacks of a rekindled romance, but we’re quickly on to the chase once more, wasting the talents of this two-time Oscar winner. Recent Oscar nom Jones doesn’t fare much better, either leading or being dragged by Hanks, her Brooks is modern take on the classic Hitchcock female partner, but written with little personality. The same can be said of Omar Sy saddled with the role of the dogged, determined pursuer, always a few steps behind the always on the run couple. Knudsen, as his WHO boss, spends most her time barking orders, until we learn of her personal connection in the third act. Foster displays little of the intensity he exuded in HELL OR HIGH WATER, making Zobrist too aloof for a fervent doomsday zealot. What little life the film possess is thanks to the spirited work by Khan as the ruthless, almost Bond villian-like mastermind with a wicked sense of humor, deadly and deadpan.
Like Hanks, director Ron Howard also returns for this third Brown adaptation. We get the feeling that the populist, everyman filmmaker is having a blast with the horrific images in Langdon’s fever dreams, The “nice guy” gets to finally cut loose. Unfortunately all that is quickly pushed aside after the first 30 minutes, so that the film can settle into a monotonous pattern of chase, find clues, hide, repeat…ad naseum. Perhaps the talented screenwriter David Koepp felt that he couldn’t detour from the puzzle-solving plot of the best seller. The foreign locations make for a lovely travelogue, but the characters are more like chess pieces being moved from one square (or country) to the next. By the film’s final showdown, the ridiculous aquatic concert fails to jump-start this limp (attempted) mass-murder mystery. To be short (unlike this tedious flick), INFERNO generates very little heat.
2 Out of 5