It would be easier to plot your way through Dante’s nine circles of Hell than keep track of all the twists, tangles and tumbles in the plot of “Inferno.” The first two films based on Dan Brown’s creative writing were brilliant puzzles that took the viewer on an adventure. This third production is more of a misadventure.
It starts with puzzle solver supreme Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) waking up in a Florence hospital where a gun wound has left him with partial memory loss. He’s under the care of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who goes from caregiver to savior when a gunman tries to kill Langdon.
Their escape becomes a quest when Langdon discovers a clue hidden in a visual depiction of the levels of hell presented in Dante Alighien’s “Divine Comedy.” They soon discover that a mad billionaire (Ben Foster) is ready to unleash a plague on the planet designed to kill half the population.
This is where the script begins to unravel. Langdon is being pursued by a number of official and unofficial groups, including a woman from his past who heads the World Health Organization. Since no one can be trusted, Langdon and Brooks set out on their own to find the virus before it is released.
They use a series of clues that all tie in with Dante’s life. They slowly – very slowly – unravel each clue taking them one step closer to the discovery and keeping them one step ahead of the people who are tracking them, which includes everybody but Inspector Clouseau, McGruff the Crime Dog and The Scooby-Doo Gang.
Putting the hero on the run smells of repetition. It might have worked had the setup not been as shaky. A lack of an equally solid puzzle with “Inferno” forced director Ron Howard to bank more on misdirection.
The joy of “The Da Vinci Code” was seeing how each methodically hidden clue kept the story going. In an effort to ramp up the mystery in “Inferno,” Howard has created so many different players with changing objectives that the story is lost. This changes the movie from a smart game of cat-and-mosaic to a cheap game of truth or dare.
Hanks does his best to keep the film on course. His everyman style continues to charm, even when he’s the smartest guy in the room. Hanks is one of the few actors who can stare at a painting for a minute and keep the attention of the audience with his face.
The problem is that the film is two or three clues short of making an intriguing puzzle.
Jones continues to show her charm and skills, first as an angel of mercy and then as guardian of the antiquities galaxy. Her character’s love of puzzles is a nice fit with Langdon. It’s as if he’s been given a smart and mesmerizing sidekick.
Even she can’t help the muddled script. The writing is so poor, that no amount of eye-popping scenery shown by Howard, nor solid acting efforts by the cast, can keep the film from sinking into the movie muck.
Anyone who has read a Brown book or cheap detective novel should be able to spot the movie’s big twist long before the reveal. When key elements that are designed to add suspense are so obvious, there just no strength in the story.
Even the main idea that a crazed billionaire goes to such an extreme to release his death threat feels contrived. It’s like a 1960s James Bond movie, where instead of simply eliminating the British spy, the villain has to resort to an elaborate plan that can fall apart at any time.
“Inferno” should have been a blazing mystery driven by the sparks of two solid actors. Instead, it lacks the heat of good writing to create any cinematic sizzle.