Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ben Foster, Ana Ularu
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality)
Running Time: 2:01
Release Date: 10/28/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 27, 2016
There is a certain necessity for forward momentum in potboiler mysteries/thrillers like Inferno, if only to keep us from thinking for too long about the underlying mechanics of the plot. In other words, the goal is to keep an audience entertained in the moment—and in every possible moment—so that we're not picking away at the abundance of flawed logic that makes these stories possible. The screenplay for Inferno, written by David Koepp, begins that way and with a vengeance. Then it all falls apart.
The movie is based on the fourth entry in Dan Brown's series of novels about world-renowned symbologist Robert Langdon, played for the third time in this movie series by Tom Hanks (One suspects that the filmmakers passed over Brown's third book about the puzzle-solver because that one is set in Washington, D.C., while this one gives the cast and crew a chance to go to Florence, Istanbul, and Venice—the last one simply because the hero makes a mistake). By now, we have a sense of how these stories will begin. Langdon receives a visit from someone with a symbol-based mystery to be solved, and there's a lengthy bit of exposition establishing the puzzle and the stakes.
After an unnecessary prologue (The information within it is repeated multiple times), this entry opens with Langdon in a hospital in Florence, unaware of where he is and the events of the past two days. Almost as soon as his doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) explains that he has retrograde amnesia, an assassin (Ana Ularu) is shooting at the pair. Langdon also finds himself having strange visions of a hellish cityscape with twisted, tormented figures and streets running crimson with blood.
This isn't the pattern we know, and the confusion of our usually quick-witted protagonist provides an intriguing kink in the works. How will Langdon rationalize his way through the ensuing puzzle if his head isn't on straight? There's no reason to get too excited by the prospect, though, since Langdon's amnesia turns out to be the convenient kind: He can't remember the word for coffee, but he can recall detailed information about the life and works of Dante, whose Divine Comedy has singular importance to the mystery.
The plot, which quickly returns to the old pattern, has Langdon and Sienna following clues left behind by the doomsday-obsessed billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), whose death opens the movie. He believed overpopulation will result in the extinction of humanity in the next 40 years, so he developed a virus that would wipe out half of the human population. He has rigged the virus to be released at a specific, secret location within the next 24 hours.
Langdon is in possession of a miniature projector that, as we later learn, provides the first clue for Zobrist's protégé to find that location in case anything should happen to him. Meanwhile, an assortment of forces, including agents from the World Health Organization and Irrfan Khan's "Provost" (a character who starts as a cliché, only to become strangely fascinating), are after Langdon.
Ignore the fact that Koepp's screenplay is shaky on how Langdon came into possession of the projector, since it was given to him by a character who had no contact with Zobrist. Ignore the idea that Langdon's amnesia ensures that the typical double-crosses can occur without him being the wiser. These are minor annoyances, which, admittedly, build up with noticeable frequency.
Focus instead on Zobrist's plan and, specifically, the rationale for him creating a trail of clues that would lead to the location of the virus. If Zobrist fails to put the virus where he wants to, wouldn't it make more sense for him to leave clues to where the virus is presently located—not where it's supposed to be but isn't? If he succeeds in getting the virus where he wants it to be, there's no reason for one of his followers to find the place, since the device that releases the virus is on a timer. By making the location known, even by way of a scavenger hunt (with only three stops, by the way), he has only left open the distinct possibility of someone stopping his plan.
It's a pretty significant hole in the movie's logic, since the scavenger hunt is the entirety of the plot. It becomes a maddening distraction, though, because Koepp and director Ron Howard fall back into the same routine as Langdon's previous adventures—visits to landmarks and places of interest interrupted by chases, escapes through secret hallways, lengthy bits of Langdon reciting historical trivia, repeated scenes of characters explaining the plot. Inferno needs to move like a shot, but it crawls like an exhausted toddler.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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