Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: "Inferno"

The Robert Langdon movies have been an undeniable buttress for the careers of author Dan Brown, director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks.

I don’t know anyone who considers “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” great movies, but they were energetic and got people to go to the theater to check out the hubbub. And maybe along the way a few became interested in a tidbit of history or a religious artifact contained in the movie and decided to explore their world further. Or maybe they saw a Coming Soon poster for another, better film and came back to see that.

In short, the Langdon flicks are the sort of popular movies that come along, make a ton of money and are then promptly forgotten. For instance, I couldn’t remember how long it had been since the last one: seven years. Their existence is unnecessary but not objectionable.

They’re probably my least favorite Tom Hanks movies, because instead of building a character he’s made to chase a chimera around for two hours while looking pained. It’s like asking LeBron to be the ball boy.

If Indiana Jones was an adventurer who reluctantly deigned to drop in at the university from time to time, then Robert Langdon is a dweeby academic with a penchant for puzzles who keeps getting sucked into dangerous escapades. These always involve clues hidden in ancient works of art and schemes to destroy/upend the world as we know it.

(Are there any other kind of schemes in the movies?)

The newest, “Inferno,” has decidedly less of a religious bent than its predecessors, which caused them to be controversial. “Da Vinci” posited that the Catholic Church covered up that Jesus actually married and had a family, producing modern descendants. (Sorry, after 10 years spoiler warnings become moot.) Maybe Dan Brown grew tired of all the protests, but there’s no Christian conspiracy theories in this one.

This threat comes from Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire bioengineer played by Ben Foster who thinks overpopulation spells mankind’s doom within the next couple of generations. So he hatches a plot to kill half the world with a nasty virus called Inferno. Langdon spends the movie trying to foil it, traveling to Florence, Venice and Istanbul.

But he’s at a disadvantage. As the story opens, Langdon wakes up in a hospital, groggy and in pain. He’s been shot in the head (grazed) and can’t remember anything that’s happened to him recently. There are horrible visions of rivers of blood, hellfire and damnation, bodies twisted and riddled with pestilence. A helpful ER doctor, Sienna (Felicity Jones), tries to fill in the blanks.

“You won’t be able to trust your own thoughts for a while,” she warns.

But then a slavering assassin dressed as a policewoman shows up firing her pistol willy-nilly, and Langdon and the doc are on the run. The assassin is played by Ana Ularu, who has a great aggressive face, like the pointed muzzle of wolf.

They follow a trail of clues to the virus left by Zobrist because… well, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie, would there? This includes an alteration of a famous painting contained in a bone flashlight, stealing Dante’s death mask, a beautiful old cistern that’s been turned into a concert hall, and other cool artsy crossovers.

Joining the hunt are Sidse Babette Knudsen and Omar Sy as agents of the World Health Organization, here depicted as indistinguishable from James Bond types in suits and deadly skills. And Irrfan Khan plays the head of a mysterious private agency that pulls lots of global strings from their HQ aboard a seaborne ship.

It’s obvious that Langdon is being played for a sap. The burning question is, by whom?

“Inferno” is about on par with the other Langdon flicks, maybe a tad better. You’ll never be bored, but if quizzed on the story the next day I bet most people would score a grade of D or lower.

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