In the same way that watching Indiana Jones evading bad guys was downright sad in 2008, when a grizzled Harrison Ford donned his fedora for the Crystal Skull fiasco — you don't know AARP? — watching Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) hobbling through gardens and basements to escape international police and rogue health organization agents is much less entertaining now that Hanks is 60. Langdon may once have been a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Indiana Jones hybrid, a fiercely intelligent professor of symbology, enlisted in times of urgent need to decode the puzzles of equally intelligent and symbol-oriented villains ...
But no longer. Now, it's just Tom Hanks delivering lines, scurrying through back entrances of Italian museums looking for clues either obvious or stupidly obscure.
The third film adaptation of the Robert Langdon mysteries written by Dan Brown, Inferno is out in wide release Friday. The first and most popular was, of course, The Da Vinci Code, wherein Hanks borrowed Alan Rickman's wig from the Harry Potter set to properly transform. Inferno, like its predecessors, is directed by Ron Howard, who has sprinkled the Langdon mysteries atop his schizophrenic directorial slate since 2005. (The Dilemma must be reckoned with alongside the accomplished Rush and Frost/Nixon).
In Da Vinci Code, symbology was central to the plot. Every clue was a puzzle that needed to be solved — and fast! — a puzzle that tested the limits of Langdon's knowledge and experience. Here, it's not at all. Inferno is your basic international action movie where pace is a stand-in for action. The symbology stuff is so lame it doesn't bear mentioning, but suffice it to say Langdon's not as sharp as he once was. The big decoding of the film arrives when he sees letters written on Botticelli's famous painting of Dante's Inferno and tries to unscramble them in the exact same way you or I would unscramble a word puzzle in the Sunday newspaper. He doesn't even get it. It's pointed out to him by a high-heeled sidekick, one Dr. Siena Brooks, played by Felicity Jones, who's good. But all her performance does is make you wish you were watching Rogue One, out later this year.
In the first 20 minutes, Langdon awakes in a hospital in Florence with amnesia and a gunshot-inflicted head wound. Howard uses the camera to communicate Langdon's mood, and so we get a disjointed opening with nonstop cuts to deranged visions and memories, zany camera angles and incoherent sounds and images. It's like watching a Staind music video directed by Oliver Stone.
The story is gripping enough, if (to reiterate) lacking the material that's supposed to make it unique. The biggest mystery turns out to have nothing to do with Langdon and his clues but the allegiance of various members of the police force and world health organizations who are hunting Langdon and Brooks, who are themselves hunting a virus before it is unleashed on the planet.
The criminal mastermind isn't even alive. He's a billionaire bioengineer named Zobrist (Ben Foster, who gets a pass after Hell or High Water) and he has planted clues that Langdon must find if he wants to prevent a global culling. It's the second movie in as many years that features a psycho villain hellbent on "curing" overpopulation, and for that reason more than any other Inferno should give us pause. But the fact that Langdon's even involved beggars belief. The idea of a billionaire mastermind leaving a string of low-tech clues is about as credible as an Italian art museum without an alarm system, or a niche Harvard academic with the international cache of J.K. Rowling.