You don’t have to tell me that director Ron Howard’s sinfully entertaining screen adaptations of author Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon pulpy novels are not exactly bait for critical adoration. It seems the first two, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, were used as target practice by some of my colleagues, and I have no doubt the latest chapter, Inferno — which Sony Pictures releases today — will also have its detractors. But as I say in my video review above, these movies are comfort food on the highest order and the latest is also perhaps the greatest in terms of viewer satisfaction.

Deadline Review Badge Pete Hammond

Tom Hanks, star of all three, has settled nicely into his role as Professor Robert Langdon, the art history expert and cryptologist who constantly finds himself in Italy battling evil forces out to threaten the world in one way or another. This usually results in a movie, like the Jason Bourne series, in which our hero would be well-suited to train as an Olympic-class runner before getting on a plane to Rome. It is no different this time as Langdon and his latest obligatory female cohort (Felicity Jones) are being chased all over Italy and other locales by baddies, and even some goodies, who have their own agenda.

The film opens with a billionaire environmental zealot Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) being pursued by an agent (Omar Sy) before he jumps to his death out of a tower in Florence. Cut to a hospital where a battered and bloodied Langdon is recovering from an attack he has no memory of except brief flashes of apocalyptic images such as red waves of water gushing toward him. He is befriended by pretty physician Sienna Brooks (Jones) who helps him escape when the hospital becomes a crime zone and another doctor is gunned down. This starts a series of chases by every means imaginable, including through the canals of Venice, where clues based on Dante’s chilling poem “Inferno”  lead them down some blind alleys before the revelation that Zobrist, in an effort to curb the world’s overpopulation, had planted a deadly virus designed to kill off most of the human race. In 24 hours everyone could be dead unless Langdon can cut to the chase, as it were, and figure out who is going to set off this catastrophic event, and where.

With his short-term memory loss coming back into Hitchcock-like focus, Langdon also comes upon others who are mysteriously into all of this including Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), who works for a private security consortium;  and the World Health Organization’s Elizabeth Sinskey (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen), who also happens to be an old flame of Langdons. As clues are revealed through Dante’s writings and several works of art, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep us on the edge of our seats.

No one should plan on getting the tux out for the Oscars for this one, but what is wrong with some good old fashioned fun and a gorgeous swing through beautiful European locations?  On top of that, the supporting cast is world-class with a group of terrific international stars  like Khan, Knudsen and Sy lifting the material. Foster makes an effective villain, and Jones, who was Oscar nominated for The Theory Of Everything, proves she can be just as fetching in major studio popcorn stuff. David Koepp cherry-picked the best stuff out of Brown’s book for his screenplay, even if liberties taken might disappoint some avid readers. Bottom line is it all works on screen.

As usual Brian Grazer produced with Howard for their company, Imagine. Do you plan on seeing Inferno? Let us know what you think.