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Ten years ago, movie audiences were introduced to Professor Robert Langdon, a brilliant man anchored in the studies of religious iconology but capable of so much more. His ability to see what others couldn’t put him in high demand and in harm’s way more times than not. Author Dan Brown placed his life’s passion in the hands of famed director Ron Howard, who in turn, brought in someone he was very comfortable with; Mr. Tom Hanks. The two have a long relationship spanning more than 30 years. Howard directed Hanks in his feature film debut, Splash (1984). From there he was the producer of The ’Burbs (1989). The duo teamed up again in the nine-time Oscar nominated hit, Apollo 13 (1995). Then in 2006 the two reconnected for Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. It was a huge success which they followed with Angels & Demons (2009). Robert Langdon is back to solve yet another society saving mystery in Inferno.

Inferno begins with an impassioned Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) giving a lecture as to why we, as a civilization, should be very concerned with the health of our planet. This has nothing to do with pollution or nuclear war. His concern is a simple numbers game, massive overpopulation. The numbers are growing at an alarming rate, and soon (as in 40 years) there will be too many people on this planet. His morbid solution is one that most couldn’t even begin to fathom, and yet, there are those willing to see his ideas become a reality.

Enter Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the man who undoubtedly can prevent whatever madness in store for mankind. The first challenge for Langdon this time around is for him to figure out why he’s in Italy and how he got there. Some type of traumatic event left him with lost short-term memory and a major head wound. Before he has time to acclimate to his new surroundings he finds that his life is in immediate danger and must leave, thus beginning a long pursuit for answers. Answers to questions that he doesn’t even know he has.

As a viewer, if you’re familiar at all with either of the first two movies or novels, you know exactly what to expect: twists, turns and puzzles galore. Just when you think you’e solved the story, wait, there’s more! The Dan Brown novels kept readers off balance and unsure; Ron Howard attempts to do the same with these movies, but it’s much more difficult to throw out misdirection when you know misdirection is afoot. What’s the saying? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?” “Fool me three times,” and well, you’d be the perfect target for Inferno. This franchise is dangerously close to moving into National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) territory. You don’t want to go there. Reel in those out-of-left-field leaps to conclusion by linking together fifteen seemingly unconnected plot devices for one massive reveal. Howard is not quite there, but he’s teetering in that direction.

Tom Hanks typically makes great movies EXCEPT when it comes to these Robert Langdon movies. Inferno lacks originality and standout characters. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything (2014)), Ben Foster (Hell or High Water (2016)), Omar Sy (Jurassic World (2015)), Irrfan Khan (Jurassic World (2015)) and Sidse Babett Knudsen (A Hologram for the King (2015) costar. There won’t be any lasting memories of these actors. There’s just nothing to attach your hopes to here.

It’s unfortunate that the combination of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks can’t save Dan Brown’s Inferno from feeling like it’s just smoke and mirrors. There’s material to mine from if Sony should decide to keep up with the adventures of Robert Langdon. The 2009 novel The Lost Symbol has yet to be adapted. In addition to that, an all new novel called Origin is slated for a 2017 release. That being said, there’s no guarantee that either Howard or Hanks would even be interested in returning. Only time will tell. I fear this franchise has seen its best days. Inferno is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Inferno is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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