It makes sense that Ron Howard would be the director who would adapt Dan Brown’s novels for the silver screen. Both men make the kind of entertainment-like product that is consumed by an undiscerning majority who don’t read many books or watch many films. They are both masters of the form if the form is defined by anything that is half-watched/half-read on a flight with the kind of indifferent curiosity that eventually leads to sleep.
“Inferno” is the perfect storm of their middlebrow sensibilities. Like the non-paying customers at Panera Bread who insist on carrying on their Scrabble game during the height of the lunch hour rush, “Inferno” is aggravating in a banal, tedious way.
As in the terrible book that inspired it, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) returns once again in a tepid adventure for people who wished “Indiana Jones” was a mix between a half-finished Junior Jumble and something Alex Jones farted out into a microphone. Also, symbologist? Not only does Microsoft Word hate how fake this clunky, made-up title is, it sounds like something a crazy person would claim to be shortly before punching a pigeon in the face.
At any rate, as “Inferno” opens, Langdon is holed up in a Florence hospital room suffering from a concussion and, in the film’s only interesting moments, finds himself hallucinating various apocalyptic visions of faceless people writhing around an urban Hellscape. As Langdon slowly comes to terms with who he is and how he managed to wind up in Florence, Italy, a murderous lady cop in a fascistic, para-military uniform (an underused Ana Ularu) wildly opens fire in a hospital which, strangely, only manages to garner the attention of a single orderly.
Luckily, Langdon manages to escape through that hidden, back door that all hospital rooms are apparently equipped with. Even more luckily, a nurse (Felicity Jones wasted in the obligatory Audrey Tautou sidekick role) who just met him hours ago – and with clearly no obvious ulterior motive (winkidy, wink, wink) – smuggles him out of the hospital and ushers him into a convoluted adventure where she’ll react with dull surprise over Langdon’s improbable revelations for the next two hours.
Incidentally, the convoluted adventure in question happens to involve a Peter Thiel-by-way-of- Elon Musk-millionaire (Ben Foster) –who, for whatever reason, is allowed to give TED talks about genocide – that is planning to wipe out humanity with a second black plague. Yet he’s also inserted clues to the whereabouts of the plague (which is snugly placed inside of a Ziploc baggie) in various paintings and death masks that are solved through mindless, open-mouthed stares.
If Dan Brown was a precocious home-schooled 12-year-old who never left his parent’s attic nor had a genuine human interaction, everything he’s ever written would be a lot more forgivable. But he’s a fully grown adult who is presumably not constantly locked in a closet, so there’s no reason why his books should be as dumb as they are.
Screenwriter David Koepp retains everything stupid about Brown’s books including their dimwitted paranoia, shaky grasp of history/geography, bland characterization (Langdon’s personality can be summed up in the scene where he’s really happy he found his Mickey Mouse watch) and a childlike belief that any escape is just a revolving book case away.
In less rigid, more playful hands “Inferno” could have been a kitschy blast but Howard’s clumsy direction insures that every scene carries a sense of rote repetitiveness. Exposition is followed by a chase scene, followed by a fun fact from a discredited children’s almanac that’s eventually capped off with an unlikely plot twist.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Director: Ron Howard
Weekender Rating: W
Length: 121 minutes