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From Da Vinci to Dante, Tom Hanks is back on the case in 'Inferno'

You want my advice? Leave the stuffed shirts home.

They'll probably be right to scowl and sneer at every other overcooked minute of Ron Howard's "Inferno" with Tom Hanks. But who cares? Who wants to be among them when the time comes for all of us egregious sinners to travel on to Dante's Hell, Purgatory or Paradise?

Leave the snarls to the cinematically correct. Let them scoff to their hearts content while we simple-hearted folks have a dandy time watching Hanks and Felicity Jones chasing after Dante's death mask around the Mediterranean to stop a worldwide man-made pandemic created to decrease the human race by at least a third.

This is the third time Howard has had a disreputable grand old time chasing after the novels of Dan Brown with Hanks playing Brown's omniscient investigating symbologist Robert Langdon.

"The Da Vinci Code" is how Howard and Hanks got into Brown's lunatic Langdon business. By the time of "Angels and Demons," I began to notice how bad a time others seemed to have while I was celebrating like a dizzy fool and feeling sorry for all those prunefaces in the critics' trade who had regretted Howard's egregious excesses and slathered tasteful opprobrium over everything in sight. How anyone could possibly resist a climax where a good guy saved the world from being turned into anti-matter by parachuting over St. Peter's is beyond me.

My question after the incredibly gorgeous, travel-steeped "Angels and Demons" still stands: Who ever expected that the All-American, dimple-cheeked little TV cutie pie who started out as Opie and Richie Cunningham on the tube would turn out to be the leading exponent of the Baroque in World Cinema 2.0?

So this is what we've got here: a crazy billionaire named Zobrist (Ben Foster)  is convinced that "mankind is the cancer in his own body." That's what happens when human population continues to explode (8 billion, he says) at the same time half of all the animal species that have ever been have vanished because of us. So he's created a doomsday virus called "Inferno" capable of wiping out at least a third of the human race. Which is exactly what he'll do if Langdon, Cambridge University smarty-pants, doesn't stop Inferno from doing its very dirty work.

So that means that Hanks and a beautiful newfound buddy have to run around sun-drenched Italy trying to find Dante's death mask. (Don't ask why; you just have to see for yourself and marvel at it.)

Hanks wakes up with amnesia in Florence. Immediately, he's got a doctor pal named Sienna Brooks (Jones) to chase around all sorts of places -- the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, St. Mark's Square in Venice, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It's a good thing matters stopped there because next on the agenda, no doubt, would have been George Clooney's house on Lake Como and the Brangelina winery that separating Brad and Angie just put up for sale in France.

The whole nutty chase started when someone stuck a puzzle onto a Botticelli illustration for Dante's "Divine Comedy" which has to be observed through Dante's Death Mask. And then, of course, decoded by our master decoder and symbol maven.

Wait. It gets better. Lots and lots of erudite clues are left lying around just so you know how much time Brown and his screenwriter David Koepp spent in libraries and online. A big deal is made of Canto 25 of Dante's "Paradiso" so that Hanks can puzzle out this passage and figure out where to go to " find thee face to face, before thy death in the most secret chamber."

This is a movie that starts out with its hero suffering so badly from amnesia that he forgets the word for coffee and concludes with his secret arcane knowledge of apparently every exit and secret door in every  church and museum throughout Southern Europe and the near-Mideast.

Just as "Angels and Demons" ended with the nuttiest parachute jump conclusion I've ever seen in a movie, this one tries to keep apace by assembling a concluding  audience of sitting ducks for bio-terror at a symphony orchestra concert held in a converted underground reservoir.  (What? You ask. You heard me. Lots of scenes are filmed underwater, lest world-killing toxicity be loosed.)

Don't tell me the finale is all wet. I say there's no end to where they could have gone from there.

Let me admit that as much as I admire the limitless chutzpah of Howard in these Brown/Langdon thrillers, this one does seem a wee bit overstuffed as it proceeds  with new locations and plot switcheroos. But it's nothing if not a diverting sightseeing vacation to Europe.

The cast is fine, especially an actor named Irrfan Khan who has all the droll lines in the script (would that there were a few more).



3 stars (out of four)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan and Sidse Babett Knudsen

Director: Ron Howard

Running time: 121 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality.

The lowdown: A plot to wipe out half the world must be stopped in beautiful landmark locations.

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