The usual formula for the cat-and-mouse thriller consists of bad guys chasing good guys (who keep escaping), with the cycle repeated several times until the movie ends. There are many variations of course, and the premise for Inferno (2016) is based on lethal toxins capable of mass destruction. Set in fabulously exotic locations, the film doubles as a travelogue in case the plotline fails. And fail it does.
We meet the battered Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) in an amnesiac condition on a hospital bed, confused about everything except his attractive doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). When an assassin tries to finish him off, the couple head off on a kind of tourist speed-dating that takes in the best views of Florence, Venice and Istanbul. A deranged but arithmetically gifted billionaire calculates that overpopulation will destroy the planet and he wants to release a nasty liquid that can kill half of humanity (roughly 4 billion, give or take a few). The World Health Organisation, several gendarme platoons and various evil exploiters out for a fast buck all chase each other excitedly for about two hours until the closing credits produce relief.
To describe the plotline as convoluted is being kind. But it does have that certain Rubik’s Cube quality where every turn leads nowhere and every character except the Professor turns out not to be who we thought they were. By the time the Professor’s memory returns much water has gone under the bridge (normal in Venice) and many beautiful ancient museums and historical artefacts are visited, albeit rather quickly. Highlights of the Langdon/Brooks getaway include the Boboli Gardens, the Florence Institute of Arts, and the Uffizi Gallery, passing classical works by Michelangelo and of course images from Dante’s Inferno. While the plot is implausible the tour is superb.
The endless chase provides little opportunity for any character development, but the film is entirely spectacle-driven anyway. The skilfully nuanced and deeply furrowed wrinkles between Tom Hanks’ eyes that so wonderfully spelt gravitas in Sully (2016) are still permanently attached but here spell confusion and forbearance with a muddled script that barely holds the film together. In attempting to make sense of what is on screen, both the professor and the doctor double as roving narrators, explaining to audiences what on earth is going on. While this is a novel approach to making cinema out of Dan Brown’s novel, it turns a thriller into something closer to a sumptuously filmed but corny parody.
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Brooks, Ben Foster