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"INFERNO"
(2016) (Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: An amnesiac professor of symbology tries to figure out what's happened to him while also hoping to solve a riddle related to a deadly virus that's about to be released on the world's population.
PLOT:
American professor of symbology Robert Langdon (TOM HANKS) regains consciousness in Florence having suffered some sort of head wound with no memory of that or how he ended up in Italy. Dr. Sienna Brooks (FELICITY JONES) is tending to him, but she helps him escape from an assassin, Vayentha (ANA ULARU), who seemingly wants to kill him. Others are also desirous of getting their hands on Langdon, including Elizabeth Sinskey (SIDSE BABETT KNUDSEN), a high-ranking official with the World Health Organization and Christoph Bouchard (OMAR SY), the head of another team that seems at odds with the WHO.

They're all interested in the professor as they believe he might be able to decipher some cryptic clues about a potentially deadly plan concocted by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (BEN FOSTER). In past speeches, he's railed against the world's overpopulation problem and apparently has created a pathogen he believes will cull the human herd. That doesn't sit well with Harry Sims (IRRFAN KHAN), the head of a shady operation that was helping Zobrist before that man took his own life to prevent his plan from being stymied.

As Robert tries to figure out how he ended up in Italy and what's happened to him, he races against time to solve the mystery of the clues presented to or discovered by him, all before the deadly virus is released.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
I've long said that a movie's hero is only as good as the opposing villain. As such, the villain obviously needs a "good" villainous plan, lest the hero have too easy or quick a time to thwart that. On the flip side, however, if the plan is too elaborate or confusing to understand, viewers won't always be as engaged as desired, due to boredom, confusion or some level of disbelief. Right from the get-go in "Inferno," the third installment of the "Da Vinci Code" saga, we pretty much know what the villain played by Ben Foster is planning.

In that bit, we see his billionaire Bertrand Zobrist giving a speech about the pending perils of human overpopulation of our world and he states that maybe some pain can save ultimately save us. Right after that, however, he takes a purposeful and fatal plunge from a Florence, Italy tower in order to prevent some nefarious types led by Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) from getting their hands on his ultimate solution. And that would be a virus he's created that's going to cull the herd, so to speak, in order to thin the human population in the amount of approximately half of those currently living.

From a movie standpoint, that's sort of okay as the story plays out in the clock is counting down scenario, and our hero -- a returning Robert Langdon (again played by Tom Hanks) -- must stop that before all hell breaks loose. And I use that term because all sorts of clues related to Dante's Inferno -- thus the title of the film -- must be deciphered by Langdon before the virus is released. The only problem is he's suffered a head wound of recent and wakes up in a hospital with some degree of amnesia and fleeting hallucinatory images depicting Dante's age-old view of what's down below.

That particular plot element is also okay in terms of complicating the hero's mission, but as fans of the previous books and filmed adaptations have known, all of that's going to involve some "ciphering" on the part of Langdon. But as was the case with the movie versions of Dan Brown's works -- 2006's "The Da Vinci Code" and its 2009 sequel, "Angels & Demons" -- such scholarly detective work is delivered in a less than satisfactory vehicle.

That's driven by returning director Ron Howard who works from David Koepp's adaptation of Brown's novel of the same name. We all know Howard is a good and sometimes excellent director (he helmed the likes of "Apollo 13," "Cinderella Man" and "A Beautiful Mind") and that Hanks is an excellent actor (with five Oscar nominations and wins for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump"). But when the two work together in this series, the results are less than stellar. In fact, this third installment isn't good, not only due to having an unnecessarily complex set of riddles that must be solved, but also for breaking the old storytelling rule of "show, don't tell."

For reasons only those involved know, the film consists of countless moments where we see something and then Howard and company repeat it -- often blatantly and clumsily -- apparently to make sure we don't miss the important info. As a result, the pic both feels like a CliffsNotes version of the story it's trying to tell ("Here are the important things you should know") as well as one that apparently believes its audience is too dim to follow or understand what's transpiring before their eyes.

And I have a limited amount of patience in regards to villains who have elaborate, themed plans for no reason other than to make things more difficult for the hero. In this case, Foster's character -- a wealthy man with lots of obvious resources -- could quite easily get to a busy airport and deploy his virus, or do the same into the water supply of a major city frequented by lots of out of town tourists to carry said pathogen back home.

Sometimes, such elaborate plans work in movies when there's a good reason driving them. In "Die Hard 3," Jeremy Irons' character wants to toy with Bruce Willis' hero not only because he's a sadistic madman who enjoys coming up with riddles that must be solved (also with a ticking clock), but also because he wants to avenge his brother's death that he blames on John McClane. Simply shooting the cop wouldn't be as much "fun" for him or the audience (as that would make for a short movie).

Here, however, the villain has no connection to the hero and thus there's no reason for all of the subterfuge and planning. And the amnesia element doesn't work anywhere as well as in the original "Jason Bourne" flick in terms of the hero trying to figure out who he is and what's going on. Introduced early, that memory issue quickly resolves itself once Langdon goes on the run with a doctor (Felicity Jones) from some sort of assassin (Ana Ularu) who's after them. As is Sy's character and a World Health Organization official (Sidse Babett Knudsen), while another shady character (Irrfan Khan) is working behind the scenes.

All of which results in various chases and visits to museums and other places of antiquity, but none of those or the overall film are worth the price of admission or your time. I get that the scholarly detective work is the appeal of the original literary pieces (none of which I've read). And I like much of the work of Hanks and Howard (outside this series) who should make a formidable cinematic team. But for some reason (actually plenty of obvious ones) these "Da Vinci" collaborations simply don't work. While watching "Inferno," you might think you're traveling through your own version of Dante's nine circles of Hell. The film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 25, 2016 / Posted October 28, 2016


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