‘Inferno’ fails to ignite the imagination

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Dan Brown is a pedestrian writer – there I said it. Even with the exceptionally popular “DaVinci Code,” he lumbered insipidly and laboriously through a speculative tale of covert intrigue involving Christian convention and conspiracies, after which he produced two more mediocre novels. They’ve made millions and the first turned out, although different in many ways from the source material, as a fairly fitting first film version. Subsequent Brown adaptations, including the most recent offering, Inferno, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard fail to deliver more than mindless, albeit action-packed, plotless nonsense.

Once again, Hanks plays Professor Robert Langdon, a specialist in, among other things, Dante’s “Inferno.” Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital with a head injury, foggy vision and short-term memory loss. Langdon believes he is in Cambridge and soon after he discovers that he is not, his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) and he are on the run from imposter police and agents from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). The chase takes our hero, whose seemingly debilitating, hallucination inducing head injury inexplicably improves after a bath and a new suit, across Florence and eventually to Istanbul.  Implausibility abounds as they enter sacred places, barely escape their hunters and run through streets and buildings frantically trying to sort out cryptic clues, all for the sake of at least half of global civilization.

Hanks is fabulous, as usual, and his pretty co-star’s character offers a pleasing blend of curiosity and genius to Langdon’s gifted and slightly reserved sleuth. Jones and Hanks and their characters’ chemistry save “Inferno” from going up in catastrophic flames - important, especially since everything and everyone around them just fill space and offer fodder.  Still Hanks, as opposed to his other more worthy performances, has to do little more than look furrowed, confused and concerned – all easy for him. The chemistry with Jones is there, but Howard seems to want to create another break-neck race against time, that too often feels flat and underwhelming.

The success of the first film perhaps falls to novelty and its star and director, but “Inferno,” like “Angels and Demons,” can’t rely on that. While this third installment and teaming of Hanks, Brown and Howard surpasses the second by a tad, it makes little sense. One can suspend belief for only so long before realism sets in and asininity wins out. If the world needed to rely on a man like professor Langdon to save it, then Hanks is our man, but alas, “Inferno” is just a silly, rush of adrenaline that  leads to an anti-climactic finale.

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