A film review by Craig J. Koban November 4, 2016



2016, PG-13, 121 mins.


Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon  /  Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks  /  Ben Foster as Bertrand Zobrist  /  Omar Sy as Christoph Bruder  /  Sidse Babett Knudsen as Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey  /  Irrfan Khan as Harry Sims / The Provost

Directed by Ron Howard  /  Written by David Koepp, based on the book by Dan Brown

The title of this film is highly telling. 

INFERNO is a qualitative dumpster fire of incredulously epic proportions. 

This is made all the more shameful considering that this third film in the cinematic exploits of the super humanly intuitive symbologist Robert Langdon - based on the literary source material by Dan Brown - has an Oscar winning director at the helm and a multiple Oscar winning actor in front of the camera.  I tolerated the first adaptation of Brown's novels in 2006's THE DA VINCI CODE, but found its follow-up effort ANGELS AND DEMONS to be absurdly wrongheaded.  INFERNO achieves the impossible by being even more senselessly constructed and laughably preposterous than its predecessor in featuring a plot that involves a megalomaniac billionaire that wants to wipe out 90 per cent of the human population using a deadly virus...in order to curtail chronic overpopulation.   

If only he would be smart enough - or stupid enough, for that matter - to leave a series of implausibly convoluted clues buried cryptically in classic works of ancient art that only one crackerjack symbologist in the entire world could decode?  Hmmmmm.... 

A least INFERNO doesn't contain - ahem! - an airtight nano-composite shelled antimatter canistered bomb that's threatening to destroy the Vatican.  Been there, done that. 



I'll concede this: INFERNO begins with a kernel of intrigue.  As it opens we meet back up with Professor Landon (Tom Hanks, thankfully no longer sporting that ridiculous THE DA VINCI CODE mullet) as he awakens suddenly in an Italian hospital groggy, confused, and with a strafed bullet wound on his noggin.  He has no idea how he received such an injury, nor does he remember why he's even in Italy to begin with.  The sweaty and panic stricken Langdon is reassured by his nurse Sienna Brooks (the always fetching Felicity Jones) that he's being looked after and is safe...but she also frankly explains to him that he has short term amnesia, which, of course, is one of the oldest and stalest screenwriting troupes around to provide a story with manufactured and convenient conflict.  To make matters worse, Langdon seems to be suffering from spontaneous apocalyptic visions of hell on earth, replete with rivers of blood and contorted devilish bodies that are writhing in agony.  

In short, he's having a bad day. 

Langdon's day gets worse when an attempt on his life is made, which quickly prompts Sienna to immediately escort him out of the hospital and back to her apartment for safety.  While there and after freshening up Langdon discovers that he's in possession of a tube-like device that projects Botticelli's 15th Century painting The Abyss of Hell, but both he and the uncommonly intelligent art history and Dante student that is Sienna manage to uncover a clue in it ("The circles of hell have been rearranged!" Langdon relays in one of the film's many unintentionally amusing lines of dialogue) that leads them to the aforementioned billionaire (a wasted Ben Foster) that's about to unleash his killer population eradicating virus (dubbed, yup, "Inferno") on the masses...but when and where is unknown (he also committed suicide, which makes capturing and questioning him all the more tricky).  Of course, Langdon takes Sienna under his wing as they begin to engage on a European odyssey of exploring more clues (his debilitating physical condition miraculously heals within a few short hours, and despite being able to, for example, remember the secret passage entrances of Florence's Uffizi Gallery, he still doesn't possess key memories of what happened to him). 

Bizarrely, Langdon appears to be the only man in the entire world, I guess, capable of stopping this deceased zealot's plans, seeing as he's cognitively able to piece together insanely complex clues with lightning speed even while suffering from severe head trauma that nearly killed him (one scene shows him barely being able to open his eyes, whereas others showcase him studying and disseminating labyrinthine visual codes on paintings that would make the healthiest man's head spin).    Along the way are people - good and bad - that want Langdon and his device, some including an assassin posing as a motorcycle cop, some World Health Organization Officials that suspiciously act like militarized commandos, an obligatory woman from Langdon's past, and a very enigmatic man named Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan) as the leader of a shadowy security firm that also wants in on the hunt for Langdon.  Sims is very trigger happy, so to speak, with daggers. 

INFERNO was directed by Ron Howard, who previously directed the last two Langdon cinematic adventures, but at times this laughably inane sequel could have just as well been directed by Ed Wood Jr..   To be fair and obvious sarcasm aside, Howard is one of our finest populist filmmakers, but his past discipline is no where to be found in INFERNO, and his overall aesthetic style here is disappointingly one of its worst traits.  This is driven home in the film's multiple migraine inducing segues that features Langdon suddenly drifting off to hell-on-earth la-la land that's done with so much dizzying camera pans, caffeinated direction, and a dizzyingly hyperactive sense of clarity that it becomes one of the film's constant visual irritants.  The inherent cheesiness of Howard's C-grade horror film style here is stupefying; the lauded filmmaker of APOLLO 13, FROST/NIXON and CINDERELLA MAN is absolutely AWOL.  On a positive, though...INFERNO has some pretty establishing shots of Istanbul, Florence and Venice...so there's that. 

One of INFERNO's most indefensible sins is that, as far as world ravaging thrillers go, it's a tedious slog to endure, mostly because - as demonstrated in the previous two franchise entries - it's so obtrusively talky.  Langdon and Sienna run, stop, and then talk and make plot revelations...and then they run, stop, make even more plot revelations, and then run again...and so on and so on.  INFERNO is beyond guilty of having characters monotonously and endlessly explaining what's happening in the story instead of just showing us.  The thunderously stilted dialogue exchanges, again, do little favors for proven and talented performers like Hanks and Jones, some of which include "This map is a trail that he left so someone can find it!" or "Inferno is the cure to humanity's disease!" or, my personal hysterical favorite, "Langdon is in possession of the Faraday Tube!"  As the film spirals completely out of control, approaches high camp, and throws all common sense and logic thoroughly out the window we're forced to sit through a climatic third act that rarely, if ever, feels pulse poundingly suspenseful.  Never has the threat of billions of human lives being decimated felt so unendingly inconsequential as it does in INFERNO. 

Hanks is one of our greatest living actors.  There's no doubt of that.  He's a national silver screen treasure.  Mournfully, he's saddled with a character in Langdon that never feels like he has a distinct personality or a modicum of charisma.  He's essentially a pathetic puppet that the script uses as a plot dispensing machine when it's deemed necessary...and not much else.  He's a dull reactive persona that spends a majority of his time in these films making "But of course, that's it!" declarations.  Hanks tries to impart some semblance of anxiety plagued pathos in this crazily underwritten character, and he's the only entity here that makes INFERNO passably watchable.  He's paired reasonably well with Jones, a luminous and adept actress that's stunted with her own marginalized character whose motives for joining Langdon make very little credible sense until the midway through the film when, once explained, you'll want to throw your popcorn at the screen out of protest for its beyond lazy contrivance. 

INFERNO is a very dumb movie made by and featuring some very smart people.  It feels less like a big budget studio effort than it does a barely ready for cable TV movie...and it has no business whatsoever being as mindlessly wretched as it is considering the players involved.  The sleep and giggle-inducing blandness on display in this exhausted franchise is staggering.  I was more than willing to write off ANGELS AND DEMONS as a momentarily shocking blip on Howard's mostly strong resume, but now that I can easily add INFERNO to that wall of shame achievement I'm beginning to wonder if (a) Howard has totally lost his assured and competent directorial mojo of the past and (b) could I possibly ever endure another Robert Langdon adventure?  INFERNO could have been a sequel entry that course corrected this extremely problematic series, but all it ends up doing is repeating the historical errors of creative judgment of its antecedents.  

I think Professor Langdon would agree that there's an ageless lesson to be learned here about repeating history...and one that doesn't require the meticulous deconstruction of works of antiquity while dealing with a gunshot wound to the head.


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