As I watched “Inferno,” I wondered when director Ron Howard realized he was making a bad movie.
It couldn’t have been when the film was proposed. Based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name, it stars Tom Hanks in his third outing as symbologist Robert Langdon following “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons.” The story, which sees Langdon racing around the globe to stop a virus from killing half the human population, must have sounded exciting, and Howard’s eyes probably lit up at the thought of filming in such exotic locations as Venice, Italy and Istanbul, Turkey.
Maybe it was as Howard read the script for the first time. As he poured over its pages, did he realize how mechanical and forced the dialog would sound? The movie opens with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with a head wound and no memory of how he came to be there. Moments later, someone is shooting at him and a young female doctor, Sienna Brooks, is whisking him away to her apartment.
Once there, he discovers a miniature projector among his things that casts a modified version of Sandro Botticelli’s “Map of Hell” on the wall. With just a few minutes of breathless dialog, the two somehow figure out that Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire geneticist who believes radical measures are necessary to reduce the Earth’s growing population, has created a virus with the potential of decimating mankind. Talk about a productive conversation.
The dialog gets worse. I laughed out loud as Langdon and Dr. Brooks walked the streets of Venice swapping facts about the city like tour guides hopped up on caffeine. Not only was the information unnecessary, I wondered why screenwriter David Koepp didn’t deliver it in a more natural way. Imagine waking into a McDonald’s and having a conversation like this with your lunch date:
“Did you know McDonald’s has served over 99 billion people?”
“Yes. Did you know the Big Mac made its debut in 1968?”
“I didn’t! But I do know McDonald’s is the world’s second largest private employer after Wal-Mart.”
“Fascinating. Twenty Chicken McNuggets costs five dollars.”
Not only do people not talk like the characters in “Inferno,” audiences can’t swallow spoonfuls of information shoved that quickly into their mouths.
Maybe Howard realized he had a dud on his hands as he filmed the excessively complicated storyline. I was surprised by how quickly I stopping trying to follow what was happening. Soon after Langdon and Dr. Brooks begin their quest to stop the plan Zobrist put in motion, characters and plotlines start piling up like snakes dumped into a pit. As I stared at the writhing, I couldn’t see the heads or tails of the serpents, or count how many of them there were.
Even with Langdon’s seemingly preternatural ability to solve problems merely by looking at them, and his penchant for explaining everything that’s going on in his head, I was lost. As Howard filmed the many bits and pieces of the twisting, bending script, did he stop and wonder, “Is anyone going to understand this? Do I understand it?”
Having freed my mind, I focused on the quality of the filmmaking, which is surprisingly shoddy. Howard is a talented filmmaker. He might not be among the pantheon of greats, but he knows what he’s doing behind a camera. So what happened?
Several scenes are awkwardly staged, including one inept sequence during which Langdon steals a museum director’s access card and locks her with several people in a glass room. The shot of them banging on the windows is too goofy for words.
I wondered when Howard realized he was making a bad movie because by the end, he seemed to have given up. Between the cheap techno soundtrack (the kind you can hear thumping behind every second of a CBS crime procedural), the countless scenes of Hanks running through a crowd, and the surprisingly uninventive climax (during which the heroes and villains splash around in shallow water), it just seemed like he didn’t care anymore.
That’s OK, though. I didn’t, either.