Two-thirds of the way through “Inferno,” a plot twist caused as many exasperated laughs as it did shocked gasps. This reaction defines the movie, as “Inferno” manages to be as contrived as it is thrilling.
Director Ron Howard first adapted Dan Brown’s bestselling conspiracy thriller novel “The Da Vinci Code” 10 years ago. The Tom Hanks vehicle was a self-serious labyrinth of a film but addressed a fascinating conspiracy. From there, the sequels have grown more bold, more entertaining and more convoluted.
In Howard’s latest adaptation, Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon awakens in a hospital in Florence, Italy, unsure how he arrived there. This helps the story wisely skip the typically exposition-loaded first act and jump straight to the chase. Almost immediately, ambiguous groups begin firing at Langdon as he takes off to follow a trail left by a recently deceased billionaire, with his new female sidekick (Felicity Jones).
The mysterious puzzle is loosely tied to Dante’s “The Divine Comedy: Inferno,” but the film never gives a convincing reason why the epic poem figures so heavily into the story. For some reason, the billionaire who left the puzzle loved Italian art and Dante, using paintings as hints. Though entirely nonsensical, this enables Hanks to have strange visions of hell on Earth, including visually arresting sequences of heads turned backwards, people halfway buried in the ground and “The Shining”-like raging rivers of blood.
The plot unravels through flashbacks and plot twists, never really making much sense. In order to decode what actually happened in this movie, one would need a full day, a notebook and a symbologist as smart as Hanks’ character in the film.
Despite the disappointing plot, the entire cast is superb. Jones delivers a strong portrayal of a confused yet eager-to-help doctor, and she works surprisingly well with Hanks. Irrfan Khan is dynamite as the mysterious leader of a secretive corporation. His performance is convincing as a charmingly arrogant business man who is also an assassin with uncertain motivations — a ridiculous but extremely fun turn from the dramatic actor.
As Hanks’ character regains his memory, “Inferno” becomes less bold. Hanks’ freaky visions appear less frequently, and the movie starts to cave under its own weight, bending over backwards to make sense of the tangled plot. But “Inferno” never grows dull — whenever the plot hits a wall, its characters travel to another country, solve puzzles and dodge bullets there.
The film’s last flaw is its paint-by-numbers, typical Hollywood finale. For a series that finds its identity in being unpredictable, the ending comes up supremely disappointing. Further frustrating is the decision to stray from the conclusion to Brown’s novel, an ending as bold, preposterous and bizarrely awesome as the first 90 minutes of the film.
On the whole, Ron Howard’s “Inferno” is neither a good nor bad movie. It makes plenty of mistakes, but beautiful cinematography of historic buildings combined with an enjoyably absurd plot makes for an amusing time at the movies.
Those who are looking forward to “Inferno” should go to the theater, buy some popcorn and prepare for an awesome mess of a movie — but don’t forget your tin foil hats.