A confusing, convoluted plot, Ron Howard’s uninspired direction and less than stellar acting mar Inferno, the third installment of the popular (at least as far as book sales go) “Da Vinci Code” franchise, but then again, we all know about some of the third-film duds in cinematic history (“Superman 3,” “Rocky 3,” “The Hangover Part 3,” etc.), so what’s new here? Nothing, in fact it’s “Outbreak” meets “National Treasure” featuring James Bond, but far less intriguing than that hybrid would probably end up being.
Coming off his triumph in “Sully,” Tom Hanks plays the lead role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (as he did in the original and the lame sequel, “Angels & Demons”), which proves maybe he really doesn’t want another Academy Award. Well, maybe he’ll get a nomination with the former, but he could only get a Razzie nod with his sleepwalking work here. As mediocre as he is, however, he leads the rest of the cast which includes Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Irrfan Khan, among others, by a mile in the thespian department. Meanwhile, the storyline of an overpopulated Earth, a Medieval plague and a race to save Mankind — all wrapped around the Italian writer Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, “Inferno,” which is the first part of his “Divine Comedy” (followed by “Purgatorio” and “Paradiso,” but hopefully, Howard will not film these installments) based on a script by David Koepp (“Premium Rush”) does not inspire much interest, either.
Inferno opens with Langdon confused and hallucinating (like much of the audience will soon be) in a Florence, Italy hospital. He is informed that he was injured in a shooting and is suffering from short-term amnesia (it seems Hanks forgot his great performances in “Bridge of Spies” and “Captain Phillips” too). After meeting a friendly ER physician, Sienna Brooks (Jones, “The Theory of Everything”), a policewoman (Ana Ularu, “The Man Who Was Thursday”) barges in and begins shooting everyone, forcing the doctor and the professor to take it on the lam.
When Langdon discovers a bio-hazard tube containing a power point presentation of Dante’s “Nine Circles of Hell” in his possession, the policewoman (again), the World Health Organization (WHO) and assorted other thugs show up and the — slow and deliberate — chase begins.
Evidently, Ben Foster (“Hell or High Water”) playing a zillionaire who lectures against world overpopulation, has developed a bacteria which will wipe out half the population, thus the allusions and references to the Black Death of the wonderful good old days of the wild and wacky 1300s.
The fleeing duo is pursued by Agent Christoph Bouchard (Sy, “The Intouchables”) and Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey (Knudsen, “Westworld” TV series) of WHO, as well as a secret shadow organization run by Harry Sims (Khan, “Jurassic World,” who, incidentally, is the most interesting character here, as if that means anything). There are side trips to museums in Florence, Genoa and Constantinople (I know, it’s Istanbul, but I like the original name). Hanks, like Nicholas Cage in the “National Treasure” franchise, can figure out the most obscure facts based on the most infinitesimal of clues (it’s a good thing he is an expert on Dante; unfortunately, few of the viewers are).
There are also a few plot twists thrown in so we all won’t be completely bored out of our minds, but a conclusion featuring the entire cast splashing around in the blood red waters and an ancient Turkish sewer system is as ludicrous as this scribbler’s description of it.
However, we learn several things from Inferno, such as the fact that a pudgy 60-year old Tom Hanks can still defeat a powerful, well-trained assassin; Felicity Jones cannot act her way out of a wet plastic bag full of contagions; Ron Howard continues to be on a “In the Heart of the Sea” slump and when your plot concerns the possible end of the world, a writer does not have much wiggle room. Here, he has practically none and we are certainly the beneficiaries of this vacuum.