Did you like “The Da Vinci Code” and its sequel, “Angels & Demons”? Then don’t bother — wait, you did? Really? Huh. Well, I guess I have good news, then. The third one, “Inferno,” is a lot like the first two, but with fewer puzzles and less action. Does this appeal to you? Is this what you want?
Again directed by the more-or-less competent Ron Howard and based on a Dan Brown novel available exclusively at airports, “Inferno” begins with Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) waking up in a Florence hospital, mildly injured and suffering from a bit of amnesia. (This is a cheap, convenient way to manufacture mystery: our hero knows what’s going on; he just can’t remember!) Aided by the suspiciously helpful Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), Langdon escapes from an assassin and tries to trace his steps in order to determine who wants him dead and why.
It seems there’s a bioengineering genius, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who wants to save the world from supposed overpopulation by exposing humanity to a virus that will kill half of them. For reasons he can’t remember, Langdon is in possession of a device that presents a clue to the virus’ current whereabouts, which he and Sienna follow to a museum, where they find the next clue, and so forth. As always, the villain wants very much to be caught and has left a trail of clues to ensure that he is.
Also involved: Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a World Health Organization official who has a history with Langdon; Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), one of her deputies; and Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), who works for Zobrist in some capacity that was never fully clear to me. Langdon’s old friend Ignazio (Gabor Urmai) is also briefly seen, though we’re never told what became of him.
But I don’t mean to give the impression that “Inferno” is hard to follow. It is the opposite of that. While certain details are murky due to carelessness, the vast majority of the film follows the show-and-tell method of storytelling, reiterating every clue over and over again. When Langdon sees that there is writing on something, he says, “Look at that! There’s writing,” and then reads the writing aloud while the movie shows us the writing. When something mentioned earlier becomes important, Howard provides a flashback — visual as well as auditory — to its first mention. You could follow the film even if you were deaf or blind (but not both, sorry).
“The Da Vinci Code” (2006) C+
“Angels & Demons” (2009) C+
“Inferno” (2010) C
The screenplay, by David Koepp (a Ron Howard regular), is dumbed down to a preposterous degree, as if responding to complaints that the previous films required viewers to be too smart. In the course of their search for the virus, Langdon notices that he’s beginning to feel ill, and he dimly remembers being injected with something recently. He mentions this to Sienna and says, “What if…?”
Sienna replies, “What if what?”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “WHAT IF WHAT?”? WHAT IF HE WAS INJECTED WITH THE VIRUS, YOU DOLT!
In another instance, Langdon looks at a medieval painting on which someone has drawn several small letters, but needs to think about it for an alarmingly long time before realizing that the letters probably spell something.
What the film lacks most, though, is heart. Robert Langdon doesn’t register as a human being with emotions, weaknesses, or motivations; apart from our built-in fondness for Tom Hanks, we feel nothing for him. Yes, he’s solving these elementary riddles to save (half of) the world. But the real reason he’s doing it is, well, that’s just what this character does in these movies. He’s a tool, not a person. The whole thing feels not quite as common as a TV episode (like “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” did), but like a Robert Langdon TV movie. Whether that’s worth paying for is a puzzle for you to solve.
C (2 hrs., 1 min.; )