Very early on in director Ron Howard’s ungodly inert Inferno, one of the few interesting characters throws himself off a building, striking several rooftops on the way down before Jackson Pollack-ing a brain painting onto the concrete. Ugh, he’s so lucky…
Inferno is violently stupid and relentlessly unentertaining. It’s the sort of movie where characters vomit exposition and explanation like they chugged a plot laxative before every scene. How Tom Hanks, one of the most beloved actors of our time, has played such a lifeless, charisma-free dingus thrice now is a question that will mystify generations. Your dad may be thrilled that three of Dan Brown’s turgid texts have become movies; the rest of us just hope this is where it ends.
Robert Langdon (Hanks), still stubbornly waiting for the mullet to come back around, wakes up with a head wound in an Italian hospital. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), tells him he was grazed in the head with a bullet and is suffering from amnesia, something viewers will soon envy. When a bad lady shows up and gets all shooty, Langdon and Sienna scurry away. Unlike The DaVinci Code, no smarts are needed to solve the mystery, as clue number one is just sitting in Langdon’s jacket pocket.
Spelling out what’s happening using the most stilted dialogue imaginable, the duo determine that billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has created a virus that will wipe out half the planet’s population. It wasn’t a real challenging conclusion to reach, since dude gave a Ted Talk on the subject that gets shown like four times. Zobrist has hidden the contagious material in a plastic bag of badness that will pop in 48 hours. But then he also left a series of clues to find it, which just makes no goddamn sense at all. Why would a villain make a death device and then craft Blue’s Clues tips for locating it? Ugh. Whatever.
Nothing works here. Nothing. OK, Irrfan Khan’s irritatingly underused character, an international problem-fixer for hire, is pretty great. But Hanks is near catatonic, Jones looks like she’s (correctly) only thinking about Star Wars: Rogue One and at no point does anyone engender any degree of emotional investment. Plus, this movie thinks you’re just so very stupid; at one point, letters in a painting clearly represent the next clue, in anagram form. The movie stops to tell you “this is an anagram,” then shows you how an anagram works, as though your hamster-sized brainparts needed help.
There is a void waiting to be filled by the kind of movie Inferno aspires to be. It’s been ages since a clever, adventure-laden thriller was served up to adult audiences in non-blockbuster-y form. Yet it feels like this drab calamity is pushing us further away from scratching that long-festering itch. If (when) Inferno underperforms, it will be seen as a referendum on what it wanted to be, not what it actually was. If it succeeds (which it won’t), it will be taken as confirmation we want more crud like this. Not sure what ring of hell this is, just sure nobody is getting out.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.
Half a star.