Over the course of the three films in which Tom Hanks has played Harvard academic Dr Robert Langdon, his hair has become distinctly less floppy.
Alas, the same can’t be said of the dramatic tension in these stories from novelist Dan Brown. While the ever-game star jogs around quaint European landmarks with a look of mild consternation, director Ron Howard struggles to inject real urgency into proceedings.
Initially, this boilerplate thriller feels a little different to previous instalments The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, concussed and unable to remember how he got there, when people start shooting at him.
Across town, evil genius Bertrand Zobist (Ben Foster, seemingly desperate to twiddle his too-short facial hair) has committed suicide and his note to this cruel world is a deadly virus that he has engineered to cull vast swathes of humanity.
Zobist believes global population control is necessary to ensure our species’ long-term survival. In his infinite wisdom, he hasn’t just released the toxin he has spent years developing – that would be too easy. Instead he has hidden it away in a public place and left a series of clues as to its whereabouts. So begins the standard, pedestrian treasure hunt where we’re pinballed around between historical sites, with so many woozy, high-speed tracking shots you may experience motion sickness.
Dante and his poetic vision of the nine circles of hell provides the inspiration for Zobist’s scheme, as well as describing the viewing experience (the sheer interminability of it!) and so is the starting point for the exhausting touristic trawl that goes from Italy to Istanbul.
Even the postcard scenery is dulled by overcast skies, and while Hanks stares hard (really hard) at paintings by Botticelli and Vasari, Howard feels the pressure to animate these masterworks. Soldiers go to war in his mind’s eye and Langdon clasps his sore head and proclaims, “I’m having visions!”
Introductory scenes are dominated by horrific images ripped from Dante’s Inferno, cut together in a burning frenzy and, later on, action scenes are treated in the same fit-inducing style, which only serves to cause confusion and further distance you from the characters.
The eclectic Euro-casting sees Felicity Jones wasted as Langdon’s sounding board, while Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen) and Omar Sy (Untouchable) scrabble around in his wake (frescoes in tatters), trying to add gravitas as members of the World Health Organisation.
Sy in particular comes across as a little stilted, and there are hints at a failed romance between Langdon and Knudsen that are batted around very late in the day for no dramatic gain.
Hanks is always watchable, but Langdon is as interesting as watching paint dry. He may be saving the world but he has nothing personal at stake – even as Knudsen (who does have great presence) appeals to him with her wistful gaze. Brown and screenwriter David Koepp spare no room for characterisation or even a moral dilemma to thicken the plot.
Irfan Khan, as a shadowy fixer who was once a client of Zobist, is the only one among the line-up who understands the immense silliness of the situation and acts accordingly – with dry one-liners and a wry expression. He’s also a calming influence, standing firm while everyone else races against the clock, trying incredibly hard to convince us that this is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
But you don’t have to be a mad scientist to understand that Inferno is dead on its feet, a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, pointlessly lumbering about in search of a heart.