When Ron Howard and Tom Hanks adapted the best Dan Brown books, the results were pretty dumb and dull movies that mostly made their fortunes off brand name recognition. Now that they’re getting into weaker entries in Brown’s inexplicably popular canon, it should come as no surprise that things are getting worse. ‘Inferno’ sees the three pillars of safe and painfully white mediocrity team up for a story that dabbles with the Devil.
In theory, a hellish adventure movie with a blockbuster budget should provide the opportunity for a wild ride by studio standards. But with Opie in charge of conjuring dark images from the bowels of evil, you can expect it to be tamer than a family-friendly fairground spook house. And with Dan Brown whipping up the mystery, get ready for more convoluted idiocy.
Renegade symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, mercifully without the mullet) is back and this time he can’t remember a damn thing. The movie opens with Langdon stumbling around as an amnesiac. The academic arrived in Italy for another of his patented international puzzle-solving adventures, but bumped his head and can’t remember what the plan was. He does suffer some silly CGI visions of Hell, though, so clearly things are bad. Thankfully, he meets a nurse (Felicity Jones) who’s a big fan and owns a series of stunning pantsuits. She’s willing to help out on the quest. It involves a virus and a dastardly plot to wipe out much of the world by an overqualified and underused Ben Foster. The pair learn about that from a TED Talk. Yeah, this movie is that kind of stupid.
I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking to learn that the latest Dan Brown adventure isn’t exactly the smartest thriller on the market. The author serves up historical mysteries for the Wikipedia age with only the slightest hints of forethought and research. This one feels particularly dumb, especially since it treads in dark and twisted imagery that could have led to a more adult and exciting adventure than usual. Unfortunately, Ron Howard is once again in charge. He’s too friendly for things to get really crazy. Don’t expect to be scared or even particularly excited. This is the hellfire thriller movie equivalent of the color beige. It’s really, truly, deeply nothing special.
As usual these movies have big salaries to throw around, so the cast are all far better than the script deserves. Hanks does his wary everyman hero well, even though he has to use all of his charm to make it seem like he has a human to play. Felicity Jones and Ben Foster both hint at what compelling characters could look like before devolving into stock types to meet the dull narrative requirements. There’s a nice game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with international film stars to be played with the rest of the cast, though with little consequence. All the characters on screen have one twist to offer at most and the bulk don’t even get that.
Viewers will get some nicely photographed vacation destinations that the cast and crew likely enjoyed between setups. The movie is big and slick enough that it at least looks polished and exciting despite the nonsense plot driving the big dumb machine. Unfortunately, beyond the famous faces and picturesque backdrops there’s just nothing much here. It’s hard to get too excited about the narrative when the twists are so easy to spot so far in advance. The cast are all wasted, so even if you see a name that excites you in the opening credits, you’ll be disappointed when they appear. Every intriguing avenue that the story whips up is soon used as a cheap trick in a lazy mystery. The stakes are never very high (which is odd given that millions of lives hang in the balance), the action is never very exciting, and the reveals are never surprising. The whole thing just sort of chugs along rather predictably and then sputters out around the two hour mark.