To hell in a hand­cart

The third go­daw­ful Dan Brown/Tom Hanks/ Ron Howard col­lab­o­ra­tion is, mer­ci­fully, the short­est of the se­ries, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

Tom Hanks and Felic­ity Jones in In­ferno

IN­FERNO Di­rected by Ron Howard. Star­ring Tom Hanks, Felic­ity Jones, Sidse Ba­bett Knud­sen, Ir­rfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Fos­ter, Ana Ularu, Ida Darvish, Paul Rit­ter. 12A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 122 min In­ferno is a 2016 thriller film di­rected by for­mer child star Ron Howard. Tom Hanks, who was in Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan, is the star of the movie. Felic­ity Jones, an English ac­tor, is the fe­male lead. We must get there be­fore the time writ­ten be­side its ti­tle in the news­pa­per. Oth­er­wise, we will miss the be­gin­ning.

Why am I writing like this? Be­cause that’s how peo­ple talk in Dan Brown adap­ta­tions. The film ver­sions spare us the in­di­gestible bilge sand­wiched be­tween the dia­logue, but the stuff within in­verted com­mas is quite bad enough. The shorter speeches sound like Wikipedia stubs on (in this case) the Uf­fizi Gallery, Dante and rates of vi­ral in­fec­tion. The longer di­a­tribes come across like Ted Talks by the sort of chil­dren who eat soap.

In­ferno is the best Dan Brown film so far. It is also un­for­giv­ably dread­ful from start to fin­ish. Mind you, un­like the nar­colep­tic The Da Vinci Code or the crim­i­nally lu­natic An­gels & De­mons, the new film does have the virtue of mo­men­tum.

We be­gin in me­dias res with Prof Robert Lang­don (Hanks) com­ing to in a Florence hos­pi­tal bed. He has a wound to his head and – dis­tracted by vi­sions from hell as seen in a Slip­knot video – can­not re­mem­ber how he got here or how he be­came in­jured. Hap­pily, Dr Si­enna Brooks (Jones) is on hand to help him through his trauma.

There can be few more thank­less roles in cin­ema than the Lady Who Runs Af­ter Tom Hanks in Lang­don Movies. And, by golly, Howard puts them through their paces here. In com­par­i­son, Au­drey Tautou and that woman in the sec­ond film were barely pushed to a jog.

Aware that some clue to the mys­tery lies in the Uf­fizi, they sprint down to that mu­seum and, af­ter es­cap­ing mas­ter vil­lains through a se­cret pas­sage­way, puff their way to Venice, where they pound the bridges in their search for some­thing or other.

Ob­vi­ously, I haven’t read the stupid book but, if the film is any mea­sure, Brown is strug­gling to main­tain his USP. In the­ory, In­ferno is to Dante Alighieri as The Da Vinci Code was to Leonardo Da Vinci. That last story imag­ined a vast con­spir­acy, linked to the Re­nais­sance artist, that weaved its ten­drils into con­tem­po­rary poli­ties. But here the ref­er­ences to The Di­vine Com­edy scarcely amount even to a MacGuf­fin. The core threat is a lu­natic scheme that would have seemed per­fectly at home in a 007 film from the Late Moore Era.

Ben Fos­ter plays a mad sci­en­tist who, con­cerned about over­pop­u­la­tion, in­vents a virus that will an­ni­hi­late half the Earth’s pop­u­la­tion and al­low the re­main­ing bil­lions to pros­per in the re­sult­ing free space. A ver­sion of the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion that more closely re­sem­bles UN­CLE – all black polo-necks and shoul­der hol­sters – are among the bod­ies seek­ing to use Lang­don’s skills in de­fence of the planet.

There is one big twist that is un­likely to sur­prise any­body who hasn’t got a screw­driver imbed­ded in their frontal lobe. That aside, the story is mainly con­cerned with sort­ing out which pur­su­ing agent is a sin­is­ter hood and which is mis­un­der­stood an­gel.

There is spe­cial kind of pain as­so­ci­ated with watch­ing so many tal­ented peo­ple in­dulging in des­per­ate Con­ser­va­tory Act­ing. You know what I mean. Sidse Ba­bett Knud­sen (so good in Bor­gen), Omar Sy (the heart of The In­touch­ables) and Ir­rfan Khan (one of the world’s best ac­tors) all chew their way through the gristly dia­logue while think­ing of the nice house ex­ten­sion the cheque will help fi­nance.

Jones is do­ing so much run­ning we scarcely get a chance to clock her em­bar­rass­ment. Hanks seems con­stantly on the point of tears.

Still, it is cer­tainly the least dread­ful in the se­ries so far. It may be no co­in­ci­dence that it is also the short­est. We’re los­ing about 10 min­utes each episode. At this rate, by the 20th part, Dan Brown films will have ceased to ex­ist al­to­gether. Which would be won­der­ful.

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