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Review: 'Inferno' is another travelogue disguised as an action movie

Globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) flit around the world trying to prevent mass murder.
Globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) flit around the world trying to prevent mass murder.
Published Oct. 27, 2016

After twice saving Catholicism from nefarious hoo-ha, globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon sticks his neck out for everybody in Inferno, proving tedium is nondenominational.

This time, the crisis is a virus created by a megalomaniac plotting to curb the world's population by randomly killing half. Directions for operatives are hidden in the words and artistic interpretations of Dante, specifically his brimstone poem giving the virus and movie their names. Langdon, again played by Tom Hanks, doggedly seeks and finds clues to prevent mass murder.

Inferno continues novelist Dan Brown's formula of densely plotted travelogue mystery, clipping a low bar set by the first two chapters, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. It's more foolproof bunk for a showman like director Ron Howard and the immediately credible Hanks. Movie junk seldom passes so easily as class.

Inferno begins with befuddling promise, a foot chase through Florence, Italy, and a suicide plunge by someone we later learn is Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), the biologist behind the virus. Howard and screenwriter David Koepp play such shell games of identity and motive throughout Inferno, increasingly obvious slights of hand.

Not so coincidentally, Langdon is also in Florence but doesn't realize it. He's awakening in a hospital with a head wound and selective amnesia, the best kind for movies. Flashbacks and grisly hallucinations piece together what happened for viewers shortly before this sleuthing genius catches on.

Langdon's recovery is interrupted by the arrival of a policewoman assassin (Ana Ularu), so he scrams with and sympathetic Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). It won't be the last time they'll run for their lives or the only pursuer they'll dodge. Inferno is a series of competent chases and creep-arounds linked by rushed explanations of doomsday theology. Even Hanks appears tired of faking Langdon's incredulity, deducing out loud then hi-yo away to the next tell-tale museum or cathedral.

Each Langdon mystery works better as travelogue than nailbiter, with Salvatore Totino's camera caressing the Palazzo Vecchio, Istanbul days and Venetian nights. Inferno is another docent tour dressed as an action movie, a baby boomer's fantasy of travel and intrigue.

His and Sienna's European tour of Frommer's tips is tracked by a World Health Organization SWAT team commanded by Langdon's former squeeze Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen). He remembers her. Somehow she knows Christoph Bruder (Omar Sy), who chased Zobrist to his death. Everyone keeps eyes peeled for the shadowy Consortium, a security outfit run by the movie's most enjoyable performer, Irrfan Khan.

Inferno has a few admirable points; the way Hanks shrugs off academic exposition no actor wants, Khan's convivial menace, another intense turn by Foster. Howard's film also wheezes across the finish line, with a third act straining to explain everything piled up before it, except how Langdon gets everywhere without a travel hitch.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.