Friday, November 18, 2016

Inferno: Review

The best joke in Inferno probably isn’t meant as one. In the opening moments of Ron Howard’s film, a bearded individual, whom we’d earlier seen giving some kind of lecture on the dangers of overpopulation, is running from two men. They catch up with him at the top of a bell-tower, but instead of negotiating he jumps to his death. Movie logic dictates that his pursuers will be revealed to be the mafia or the CIA or something. But when the same men break into an apartment a few minutes later, brandishing guns, they do so with a shout of “World Health Organization!”

Believe it or not, there’s a reason for the WHO to come busting in through the door. The jumper, it turns out, was an American billionaire, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who believed that overpopulation had brought the human race to the brink of extinction, and may or may not have developed a deadly virus that could eliminate—or cull, as he charmingly puts it—half of mankind. Because the location of the pathogen is contained in a series of cryptic clues involving Botticelli’s rendering of Dante’s 14th century poem Inferno, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called into service—though who it is that does the calling is revealed only gradually.

This is the third film in the Langdon series, all of which have featured the Howard-Hanks team and used as source material Dan Brown’s workmanlike best-sellers. Though the central mysteries are often found buried in high art, the books (and the films) have no pretensions to the same. They’re as quick and satisfying as junk food, unleavened by wit, perfect for long plane journeys or Sunday afternoons when you have to watch a film, any film. Inferno follows the now-familiar template: Langdon is brought to Europe (Florence, Istanbul), paired with a younger female sidekick (Felicity Jones’ Dr Sienna Brooks), and forced to outsmart a shadowy organization, an assassin and frazzled authorities.

The result is frenetic but devoid of inspiration, dependent on the truly bizarre twists of Brown’s novel and made slow by a truckload of exposition. Hanks has never seemed quite right for the role, and he makes an awkward team with Jones, who’s oddly blank for most of the film. But Irrfan Khan, playing Harry “The Provost” Sims (Brown has a talent for silly-sounding names), the head of a shady security firm, has a whale of a time with the wonderfully hammy dialogue handed to him. He seems to be enjoying himself tremendously. It’s nice that someone is.

This review appeared in Mint.

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