I'm not afraid to admit that I get a kick out of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon thrillers. Yes, they're indifferently plotted and predictably written. But I'm a sucker for ludicrous, centuries-spanning conspiracies and indulgent faux-gnosticism. The books serve, if nothing else, as gripping tours through art-world apocrypha, and Brown's know-it-all symbologist hero makes a clever guide through it all. So it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that Ron Howard's latest Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno, is fucking terrible.
Inferno seems to have forgotten what makes this whole enterprise click: It streamlines everything down to a basic chase narrative, losing most of the paranoid cultural history lessons Brown is known for. To put it another way: Take the Dan Brown out of a Dan Brown movie and all you're left with is Tom Hanks jogging in mild irritation.
The running, the chasing, the fighting -- in the world of Dan Brown, all this stuff is entirely secondary to the scenery and the landmarks and the curios and the fun historical discrepancies we run into along the way. For some reason, that fact appears to have been lost on Howard and co., who've distilled everything down to the chase, keeping only what artistic and architectural minutiae is absolutely necessary to move the story along. They think they're making an action movie, evidently. They've even outfitted the film with a bland action-movie ending, a far cry from what's in the book -- and, indeed, one that changes the motivations and the very nature of a couple of key characters. You know you've made some poor cinematic choices when you have to make Dan Brown characters less complex.