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Inferno ••

inferno_2016_filmStarring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Dan Brown, David Koepp
Action/Adventure/Crime, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: October 28, 2016


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It’s time to review Tom Hanks’ new movie Inferno.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

It’s a hellish experience reviewing this infernal movie. Let’s recap.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back and this time he’s waking up in a hospital bed in Italy. It seems someone has shot at him and now he’s temporarily lost his memory due to a graze on his head. Luckily, beautiful young doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is there to help him. He no sooner awakes when a police officer breaks into the hospital and starts shooting at him. Brooks takes Langdon by the hand and whisks him back to her apartment where they discover he has a “Faraday Pointer” (a tiny projector) in his pocket. It displays Dante’s eight levels of hell – only the levels have a clue which leads him and the doctor on a scavenger hunt.

Apparently the clues have been left by billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) who is suspected of creating a virus that will decimate the human population. Zobrist has just committed suicide while being chased by government agents. A huge fan of Dante’s Inferno, Zobrist has imbedded clues about the whereabouts of the virus in the Faraday image of the eight levels of hell. Langdon’s expertise in this area has him involved in the search for the virus, and now and he and Brooks are racing to find it before it kills billions of people.

Scott, I wasn’t very excited about viewing this film. The first movie in the series (The DaVinci Code) was actually pretty good. But the second in the series (Angels & Demons) was pretty far-fetched. This latest episode didn’t look much better. And I wasn’t disappointed. This was a very unbelievable scavenger hunt that made little to no sense.

The good news is that the performances in this film are worth the price of admission, but just barely. Direct Ron Howard and leading man Tom Hanks work well together and can make even a sow’s ear into a silk purse. The action is relentless and Hanks definitely delivers a believable performance as Dr. Langdon. However, Howard does seem to be in love with Felicity Jones’ face as her close-ups measured in the dozens. I think the combination of a dazzling pace as well as Jones’ dazzling appearance covered a multitude of sins.

Among these sins are the premise that Langdon has on his person a receptacle that opens only with his thumb print. And inside is a “Faraday Pointer” which is a miniature projector made of human bone. The image is a bastardization of Dante’s 8 levels of hell which spell out a clue to the next step in the scavenger hunt. What the heck? Why in the world would Langdon have a tube that only opens with his thumbprint? It’s never explained. Why was this “Faraday Pointer” made of bone? Why was the pointer the means of displaying this cryptic clue? None of these things are explained.

You’ve pretty much summed it up, Greg. This franchise began well enough with The DaVinci Code but it’s now running on fumes, and those fumes are largely coming from someone’s backside. Hanks himself admitted that his main reason for agreeing to appear in this film was the delightful prospect of spending a couple of months filming in Florence. You’re right that Howard and Hanks can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, although I was going to say that you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.

The hero’s story begins well enough with Hanks waking up in a hospital with amnesia and then making his escape with a beautiful doctor. But as you point out, it all goes downhill from there. Even the much maligned Angels and Demons had more interesting twists and turns than this film, proving that Dan Brown’s stories on the big screen are getting repetitive and cliched. Especially since we know that Langdon will no doubt save the world from destruction in the end.

We’ve talked about the basic problem with the episodic hero – of which Langdon is one. The episodic hero rarely grows or learns from his mistake. By necessity, he ends up pretty much as he started out – so that in the next episode he can take on the next adventure. Langdon doesn’t undergo much of a transformation in this film. His beliefs and abilities are pretty much the same at the end as when he started out. In fact, he doesn’t even “get the girl” by the end of the story. It’s a pretty flat presentation.

And to go along with the flat hero and flat presentation, there is flatulence in the mentoring. In others, no mentoring to speak of. Now you could argue that years of schooling and training have enabled Langdon to unravel these Florentine mysteries. All these implicit mentors from his past are certainly helping Langdon. But we see none of it on the screen, making Langdon a dull, mentorless hero.

Inferno is a fast-paced but dull movie that makes no sense from beginning to end. It is only due to Ron Howard’s skill that this film is even watchable. Throw in the talents of Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones and the film becomes bearable. I give Inferno just 2 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve said, Langdon is the same old guy he’s always been. There’s no transformation for him. He’s a good guy – mostly (when he’s not stealing rare artifacts). And he has the right mission (to save the earth from mass infection). I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for Langdon.

Scott, you make a good point about Langdon’s unseen teacher-mentors. I suppose the villain Zobrist can also be considered a dark mentor for our sidekick Dr. Brooks. I give them 1 Mentor point out of 5.

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Let’s hope that this film puts this franchise to rest, once and for all. We don’t need to see Robert Langdon running around Italy any longer looking for secret passageways and dangerous new artifacts. All we need is better movie-making with stronger storylines that make us care about what’s happening. We don’t have that here. But you do make the good point that Ron Howard and Tom Hanks make this film watchable. The question is: Why are they wasting their good talents on projects like this?  I agree that the movie deserves 2 Reels out of 5.

I’m also with you that the hero rating here is also 2 out of 5. Langdon goes on a journey but not much else happens other than he slowly recovers from his amnesia and discovers the true reason why people want to kill him. Perhaps that’s supposed to pass as a transformation, but if so it’s a total cheat. Recovering one’s memory does not a mental transformation make. Also, without good mentoring, there’s not much to say about this category of rating, so 1 out of 5 is all it deserves.

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