With “Inferno,” Dan Brown, an author whose name is redolent with airport bookstores, once again sees his work realized by director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks, whose names are redolent with mainstream Sunday matinees. As the title indicates, the film riffs on the most famous work of Italy’s most famous poet, though it’s about Dante the way that Olive Garden is about fine Tuscan cuisine.
Hanks dons the sport coat of Robert Langdon, the famed Harvard professor of iconography and symbology. This time he is troubled by blood and sepia-plagued dreams – the jittery camerawork of the opening scenes makes you think Howard and director of photography Salvatore Totino shotgunned too many espressos before shooting.
Robert wakes in a hospital bed suffering from amnesia, and is tended to by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) who explains that he’s in Florence and that his wise old head has been grazed by a bullet. All of that comes out just before Vayentha (Ana Ularu), a rogue carabinieri in a rakishly-cut uniform, bursts into the room and tries to finish him off.
The good doctor secrets away Robert – in nothing more than a hospital gown – to her apartment where she mysteriously produces a suit in just his size. It’s a little strange that she’s so prepared for his visit but, as he’s unlikely to run into another fetching, polylingual genius nearby, he sticks close to her. They find and examine a tiny projector that displays Botticelli’s map of Dante’s hell with a few key alterations.
The illustration is provided by a billionaire called Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who is quite fretful about global overpopulation – in his words, “Mankind is the cancer in its own body.” In addition to tossing out poorly-conceived metaphors, he plans to release a virus that will infect 95 percent of humans, but only kill half of them (this leaves four billion folks to capture the plague’s grim results on Snapchat).
Happily for Robert, Zobrist has left art-based clues to follow in case anyone wants to find the bodega plastic bag he’s filled with deadly pathogens and secreted somewhere in Europe.
Just as Robert is about to unlock the riddle, more gunmen arrive – this time it’s the highly-weaponized World Health Organization rolling up like a SWAT unit lead by Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) and his boss Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen). And as soon as that pair is evaded, the heroes face “The Provost” (Irrfan Khan), head of the Consortium, a group of private security spooks defending the interests of billionaires like Zobrist. The Provost is yet another serious person in a suit being serious – there is a strict formal dress code in Dan Brown’s world.
All of these people firing bullets lead to the regrettable fact that “Inferno,” unlike “The Da Vinci Code,” is more about gunplay than brainteasers. An amusing recurring theme is that there are a lot of trained killers who can’t quite catch up to Tom Hanks as he jogs wheezily along in dress shoes. He’s always slipping into a hidden portico and eluding lax Italian security guards just as a baddie lines up a kill shot.
Robert’s memory begins to sharpen just when he needs it most – by the time he and Sienna follow the trail to Venice, he’s reciting Wikipedia pages on lost horseheads and so forth. All in all, except for the fate of the planet being in their hands, Robert and Sienna’s search seems like a marvelous Grand Mediterranean tour, full of Easter eggs to find with your fellow sightseers, many of whom are no doubt strolling along with Dan Brown thrillers tucked in their satchels.
“Inferno” is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:01. Visit www.cinemawest.com.