Inferno review: Hell is another Dan Brown movie

The third godawful Brown/Hanks/Howard team-up is, mercifully, the shortest of the series

Inferno
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Director: Ron Howard
Cert: 12A
Genre: Thriller
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Ana Ularu, Ida Darvish, Paul Ritter
Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins

Inferno is a 2016 thriller film directed by former child star Ron Howard. Tom Hanks, who was in Saving Private Ryan, is the star of the movie. Felicity Jones, an English actor, is the female lead. We must get there before the time written beside its title in the newspaper. Otherwise, we will miss the beginning.

Why am I writing like this? Because that’s how people talk in Dan Brown adaptations. The film versions spare us the indigestible bilge sandwiched between the dialogue, but the stuff within inverted commas is quite bad enough. The shorter speeches sound like Wikipedia stubs on (in this case) the Uffizi Gallery, Dante and rates of viral infection. The longer diatribes come across like Ted Talks by the sort of children who eat soap.

Inferno is the best Dan Brown film so far. It is also unforgivably dreadful from start to finish. Mind you, unlike the narcoleptic The Da Vinci Code or the criminally lunatic Angels & Demons, the new film does have the virtue of momentum.

We begin in medias res with Prof Robert Langdon (Hanks) coming to in a Florence hospital bed. He has a wound to his head and – distracted by visions from hell as seen in a Slipknot video – cannot remember how he got here or how he became injured. Happily, Dr Sienna Brooks (Jones) is on hand to help him through his trauma.

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There can be few more thankless roles in contemporary cinema than the Lady Who Runs After Tom Hanks in Langdon Movies. And, by golly, Howard puts them through their paces here. In comparison, Audrey Tautou and that woman in the second film were barely pushed to a jog.

Aware that some clue to the mystery lies in the Uffizi, they sprint down to that museum and, after escaping master villains through a secret passageway, puff their way to Venice, where they pound the bridges in their search for something or other.

Obviously I haven't read the stupid book but, if the film is any measure, Brown is struggling to maintain his USP. In theory, Inferno is to Dante Alighieri as The Da Vinci Code was to Leonardo Da Vinci. That last story imagined a vast conspiracy, linked to the Renaissance artist, that weaved its tendrils into contemporary polities. But here the references to The Divine Comedy scarcely amount even to a MacGuffin. The core threat is a lunatic scheme that would have seemed perfectly at home in a 007 film from the Late Moore Era.

Ben Foster plays a mad scientist who, concerned about overpopulation, invents a virus that will annihilate half the Earth’s population and allow the remaining billions to prosper in the resulting free space. A version of the World Health Organisation that more closely resembles UNCLE – all black polo-necks and shoulder holsters – are among the bodies seeking to use Langdon’s skills in defence of the planet.

There is one big twist that is unlikely to surprise anybody who hasn’t got a screwdriver imbedded in their frontal lobe. That aside, the story is mainly concerned with sorting out which pursuing agent is a sinister hood and which is misunderstood angel.

There is special kind of pain associated with watching so many talented people indulging in desperate Conservatory Acting. You know what I mean. Sidse Babett Knudsen (so good in Borgen), Omar Sy (the heart of The Intouchables) and Irrfan Khan (one of the world's best actors) all chew their way through the gristly dialogue while thinking of the nice house extension the cheque will help finance.

Jones is doing so much running we scarcely get a chance to clock her embarrassment. Hanks seems constantly on the point of tears.

Still, it is certainly the least dreadful in the series so far. It may be no coincidence that it is also the shortest. We’re losing about 10 minutes each episode. At this rate, by the 20th part, Dan Brown films will have ceased to exist altogether. Which would be wonderful.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist