Category Archives: Genre: Thriller

The Belko Experiment (2017)

I had heard a lot about this mysterious, low-cost movie (US$5 million budget) called The Belko Experiment last year, primarily because of the big name attached: James Gunn, director of the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realised it actually wasn’t directed by Gunn (who wrote the script), but by Aussie Greg McLean, best known for Wolf Creek. Nevermind.

I didn’t really know what to expect from it, given that its premise is not exactly one we haven’t seen before — a group of people forced into a game of kill or be killed. After Battle Royale and more recently The Hunger Games, another film with the same idea feels somewhat risky, though to Gunn and McLean’s credit, The Belko Experiment manages to distinguish itself through the confined office setting and a distinct horror slant.

The characters in the film all work for a branch of a massive but vague nonprofit company called Belko Industries on Colombia. On this day, after all the local hire are sent home, the company building is suddenly locked down, after which a voice through the loudspeaker begins to dictate the rules of a deadly game. At first, of course, most don’t take it seriously, but soon they realise — through a method requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief — that they better start killing or they will die gruesome deaths.

The Belko Experiment is not as memorable as Battle Royale or as epic as The Hunger Games. That said, it’s a nice little movie that’s both scary and fun. Credit goes to James Gunn for keeping the script swift and tight. At just 88 minutes, the film has a great pace and effectively introduces a whole bunch of characters on the run without excessive exposition. It doesn’t take too long before the ball gets rolling and by then you already have a good sense of the key characters and their relationships and dynamics. At no time was I confused about who was who and what their agenda was.

The cast is another strong point. Led by protagonist John Gallagher Jr (I know him best from The NewsroomHush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane), the ensemble features plenty of recognisable faces delivering powerful performances, in particular Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) as the boss in charge, John C McGinley (Scrubs) as a creep, Adria Arjona (Person of Interest), Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist) as a torn family man, Michael Rooker (Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a repairman, and James Gunn’s younger brother Sean Gunn (Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a stoned cafeteria worker. There are a lot of characters in the movie, and quality performances help the important ones stand out and rough up the edges of what would have otherwise been stereotypes. For me, Goldwyn — with his mix of charm and intimidation — was the clear highlight.

McLean’s directorial style meshes well with Gunn’s script. For those who have seen Wolf Creek, you’ll know McLean has a knack for the visceral, the violent, and the primal. You get all of that in The Belko Experiment, along with well-crafted tension and dashes of timely black humour. The tonal shifts are not perfect, but the film mostly does a good job of balancing the horror and the humour.

Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment is still somewhat a missed opportunity. For all the intrigue, tension and crafty violence it pulls off in the first two-thirds, the final act resorts to cliches we’ve seen all too often. I don’t know how else it could have played out, though I know I would have welcomed a bolder route that offered more surprises, not just shocks from the extent of the violence. I also felt they could have set up more enticing showdowns between characters by creating additional sources of conflict earlier on.

On the whole, however, The Belko Experiment still turned out to be better than expected. It’s not a memorable entry in the genre or a concept that makes us think deeper, but it’s certainly a sharp, well-made horror-thriller that scares and entertains without taking itself too seriously.

3.25 stars out of 5

Split (2016)

I wasn’t as down on the Shamhammer as some others were after his string of well-publicized debacles, from Lady in the Water to The Last Assbender to After Earth. On the other hand, I wasn’t has high as some others have been about his so-called comeback movie from 2015, The Visit. So I guess my expectations were cancelled out for his latest effort, Split.

As the title suggests, the film is about a crazy dude with dissociative identity disorder (played by the brilliant James McAvoy), who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) to a strange and unknown location somewhere. Much of the movie is about figuring out just what this guy is doing and what he wants as he shifts between 23 different personalities, each with its own name and traits. Critical to the storyline is his therapist, played by veteran actress Betty Buckley.

The first thing I will say about Split is that it’s very well-made for a low-budget film (US$9 million), once again demonstrating Shyamalan’s skills as both a writer and director. His ability to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia is as good as it’s ever been, and what I enjoyed most about the movie was the feeling that I had no idea what would happen next. And most of the time, the plot was indeed very hard to predict. You always look for a “twist” in Shyamalan movies, and I must say I quite liked what he had in store for us this time, even though it is more of a “reveal” than a twist per se.

The strengths of Shyamalan’s script and direction are anchored by three excellent performances. Of course, James McAvoy is absolutely astounding, pulling off each of his personalities with enough differences — subtle or otherwise — to tell them apart easily. At times he’s creepy or funny or brutal or pathetic or dangerous — and the fun lies in never knowing what you’re going to get.

Anya Taylor-Joy has been on my watch list ever since The Witch, and again she’s mesmerizing as the outsider Casey. There is just something about her eyes and expressions that add an air of mystery and vulnerability to her character. She’s going to be a star for years to come. And Betty Buckley is really a standout too as the therapist who has certain beliefs about dissociative identity disorder that become pertinent to the story.

Unfortunately, there were also a few things about Split that I didn’t like. As solid as the script was, there were still snippets of dialogue that came across as too contrived, conjuring up memories of Shamhammer at his pretentious worst. The film was also far too long at 117 minutes and felt that way towards the end. A compact 90-100 minutes would have made the film a lot tighter and more effective. And lastly, I wasn’t a fan of how the essential torture of these girls was sexualized. If it was merely to add tension, I would be okay with it, but I felt a lot of it was gratuitous.

In all, thanks to an interesting premise, well-crafted suspense, strong performances and a climax that doesn’t ruin the entire film, Split is good enough to be regarded as one of the better thrillers of the year. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Shyamalan’s earliest films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but Split could very well be his best effort since The Village from 2004.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: There’s a pretty cool scene at the very end of the film right after the credits start, so make sure you stay around for that. It’s a nice little surprise.

The Accountant (2016)

Ever wondered what the Bourne movies would have been like had they cast Ben Affleck instead of Matt Damon? Well, The Accountant is probably about as close as you’re gonna get.

Directed by the acclaimed director of Warrior, Gavin O’Connor, The Accountant stars Affleck as a highly functional autistic mathematics genius named Christian, who makes a living uncooking the books of some of the most dangerous criminals in the world.

Christian’s world is turned upside down when he ends up working on a new case for a company run by John Lithgow, and finds himself in mortal danger along with the young company employee who found a discrepancy in the company’s books (Anna Kendrick). Pursuing him is Oscar-winner JK Simmons, playing a Treasury agent, with the assistance of a junior data analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), as well as a hitman played by Jon Bernthal.

One important fact I forgot to mention in the above synopsis is that Christian is also a Jason Bourne/John Wick-type ass-kicker who is incredible with a sniper rifle and deadly in hand-to-hand combat. Don’t freak out — there is an explanation for this, but it sure does elevate the threshold for suspension for disbelief.

And that’s the really just one of the many problems of The Accountant — it takes itself a little too seriously for a premise you’re more likely to see in a comic book movie. There are moments of humour and levity, but for the most part O’Connor keeps the film as a straight action-thriller, and as a result there’s a bit of a disconnect. This is particularly so as the film moves into the final act and there are a few plot twists and reveals — the first  is telegraphed from very early on and not a surprise at all, and the second, which comes at the very end, is pretty ridiculous.

My other main problem with it is the casting of Anna Kendrick, who could not be a worse match for Ben Affleck. The two just look so wrong together on screen, and even decent performances from both can’t make the chemistry work. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Affleck’s acting, though here he is good enough because he simply needs to be expressionless or dopey-looking the majority of the time. I do have to say that he executes the action sequences flawlessly (maybe it’s the Batman training) and makes you believe that he really has all those moves.

Weirdly, not withstanding all the flaws, I actually really enjoyed The Accountant. I thought the premise and concept were intriguing and the plot itself compelling enough to keep my interest. The action scenes were also extremely well done, nearly on par with what you might see in a Bourne film. I just had to take a step back and treat it as more or less a superhero movie — not of the fantastical Thor or Iron Man nature but more grounded, like say Netflix’s Daredevil or Luke Cage — and I soon found it highly watchable and entertaining. Go in with reasonable expectations and you might too.

3.75 stars out of 5

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

I thought Tom Ford only made suits? Well, it seems the fashion icon can make a wicked movie too. Nocturnal Animals, Ford’s second film after 2009’s A Single Man, is a damn masterpiece of a thriller.

With an intriguing storytelling structure that features a story within a story and well-timed flashbacks, Nocturnal Animals revolves around the character Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who receives a novel manuscript dedicated to her entitled “Nocturnal Animals” from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan seemingly has the perfect life, living in a luxury mansion in LA, mixing with the sophisticated crowd and married to the dashing Hutton (Armie Hammer), and yet she feels rather empty. When she reads the manuscript, we are transported into the world of the novel, in which Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Aussie Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber) are on a road trip through Texas when they encounter a group of troublemakers led by Ray Marcus (played by an unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

The film thus jumps back and forth between the real world and the fictional world, and as Susan begins to ponder the imagery and parallels in the manuscript — as well as Edward’s intentions in sending the novel to her — she also begins to have flashbacks that reveal why their marriage collapsed in the first place. It’s a rather complex narrative structure that somehow works thanks to Ford’s brilliant script and storytelling. What I found most amazing about it is that the impact of the story in the fictional world was never muted or lessened by the fact that we know it’s just a novel. To the contrary, it almost felt more real than the real world, which had a hollow, surreal edge to it.

In any case, Nocturnal Animals is a fantastically controlled piece of cinema. You could tell Ford knew exactly what he wanted and what he was doing, from the portrayal of the characters to the costumes to the beautiful cinematography of the Texan landscape and the parallel images in the two worlds. The tension in the fictional world is incredibly crafted and is one of the most harrowing and devastating cinematic ordeals I’ve ever sat through. It was an absolute gut punch that had me wondering what I would do in the same situation and has been haunting me even days after watching the movie.

Much of the credit should go to Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as Ray Marcus. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell it was him until nearly the very end of the film. From Kick-Ass to Savages to Godzilla to Avengers: Age of Ultron to now, he has proven himself to be one of the best chameleons of this generation, and it’s a travesty he was overlooked for Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (though he did win a Golden Globe). Instead, the only Academy Award nomination Nocturnal Animals garnered was for Michael Shannon, who plays a detective in the fictional world. Yes, he’s very good in it, but I don’t think Shannon was any more deserving of a nomination than Adams or Gyllenhaal, both of whom delivered excellent and nuanced performances.

Kick-Ass (2010)
Savages (2012)
Godzilla (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Nocturnal Animals

There are 9 films nominated for Best Picture this year (out of a possible 10), and I think it’s a shame Nocturnal Animals isn’t part of that list. Apart from a narrative that expertly weaves multilayered stories together, edge-of-your-seat tension, and having a distinct visual flair and powerful performances, I also love how the film leaves a lot of room for interpretation all the way through to the end, which really makes you think about everything you’ve watched and what it could mean. It could have been so easy for Nocturnal Animals to fall into pretentious arty-farty territory, but what we ended up with instead was undoubtedly  one of the best films of the year.

5 stars out of 5

Three (2016)

Several months ago, I was invited to an advanced screening of Three, a hyped Hong Kong thriller directed by the legendary Johnnie To, best known for crime classics such as Election, Exiled and Drug War. The movie features an A-list cast too, led by Zhao Wei, Louis Koo and Wallace Chung, with plenty of other recognisable faces if you are into HK film and television.

I walked out of Three in a complete daze. It was one of the most ridiculous, non-sensical and contrived movies I had seen in a long time. I was seriously asking myself WTF just happened. I knew I wasn’t the only one because my wife thought the same, as well as the several journalists and reviewers I overheard on the way out. One of them even laughed out loud several times during the movie due to unintentional humour.

And yet, Three has gotten rave reviews, with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit with a relatively small sample size), and even garnered a Golden Horse Award nomination for To for Best Director. I don’t know if I watched a different movie to everyone else, but I’m standing my ground here. Three sucked. I don’t care what anyone else says.

Allow me to back up a bit. The film starts off with an interesting premise centered around three main characters (hence the title?): A mastermind criminal (Wallace Chung) who has been brought into hospital with a bullet lodged in his head, and yet he’s wide awake and functional; an unstable surgeon (Zhao Wei) with serious emotional issues; and a cop in charge of the investigation (Louis Koo) who may or may not have something to hide.

The film tries to build tension and intrigue with that premise, though I found the complete lack of logic so jarring that it took me right out of the atmosphere it was aiming to create. Not much of the human behaviour, actions, reactions or dialogue made any sense, and it’s all made worse by blatant overacting.

It’s as though the film was made by aliens. For instance, why keep a most-wanted fugitive with a bullet in his head in a chaotic shared room with a bunch of other ordinary people? Why are doctors answering police phone calls? Why do family members ask doctors about future treatment for patients who have literally just died right in front of them? Why is a policeman hanging out in the lobby of a hospital out of the firm belief that a song he once heard someone whistling hours ago will be whistled again? Why is the criminal reciting Wikipedia-esque general knowledge in long monologues for no reason? Well, I guess there was a reason — to create fake intrigue. In fact, so much of the film is about creating artificial intrigue and tension through badly written contrivances.

All of it leads up to a climatic shootout that the trailers keep promoting. It’s one of those stylistic, artistic scenes where the camera uses panoramic multi-camera technology to pan around the room in single long take while speeding up and slowing down the action. Yes, it’s nice to look at and well-executed, showing off To’s spectacular knack for visuals, but it makes zero sense from both a strategic and physics standpoint. Like the rest of the movie, it’s all style over substance.

Despite a great cast and a legendary director, Three stunk like sweaty pigs balls on a hot summer’s day. I have no idea how so many Western critics looked straight past all the plot holes, overacting and contrivances to only focus on the visual flair of the director. Perhaps the saw that it was directed by Johnnie To and decided it had to be good. Or maybe navigating through the cultural differences blinded them to how so much of the film made no sense. Either way, it’s one of the most overrated and disappointing films in Asian cinema in 2016.

1.5 stars out of 5

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I finally got around to watching Deepwater Horizon, hailed by many as one of the biggest “pleasant surprises” of 2016. I intentionally avoided the trailer and the poster looked fairly generic, so I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I had seen Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg collaborate on Lone Survivor, which was pretty decent, and I heard their next project, Patriots Day, is a real winner. Incidentally, all three movies are based on true stories.

Anyway, while I knew Deepwater Horizon was about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I had expected the movie to be an action flick where Marky Mark springs into action to save the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got instead was a pure disaster movie with incredible tension and spectacular visuals, while at the same time remaining respectful to those who sadly lost their lives in the tragedy. There are heroic elements, but the characters are not painted as heroes, merely victims.

The film begins as you would expect a film of this kind to begin, introducing us to the key characters and their normal lives. There is a bit of a lead-up to the beginning of the disaster itself, though it never comes across as time filler. The ominous vibe is handled really well, and even though you know what’s about to happen there is still a sense of unease and dread.

And when it finally hits — wow. I have not been so afraid of fire since watching Backdraft as a kid — which incidentally also starred Kurt Russell. In fact, Deepwater Horizon actually reminds me a lot of Backdraft, from the sense of danger to the deft explanations of the technical aspects of the science. Not that you need to know how oil rigs work to enjoy the movie, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m sure Berg took a lot of liberties in the telling of the story, but it felt real, looked real, and sounded real. The visuals and sound are both very important because there are so many explosions and fires, and for the most part, the special effects are seamless. You feel the force of it all, without ever feeling like it’s just CGI.

Sure, there is not much time for character development. That said, you do get a sense of who each character is, though I’m not sure if that’s good writing/directing or just because there are so many recognisable faces. You’ve got Marky Mark and Kurt Russell, of course, as members of the rig team. Kate Hudson plays Marky Mark’s wife, while John Malkovich, as you would expect, plays a dickish BP executive. Gina Rodriguez plays a rig navigation office, and Dylan O’Brien (the lead from the Maze Runner franchise) is member of the drilling team.

In all, Deepwater Horizon is deserving of its “highly underrated” status. Accuracy aside, it’s a shame the film didn’t even make back its budget because it is definitely one of the more spectacular movies of 2016. It’s very hard to pull off a serious disaster movie that is not only gripping but has a bit of heart as well. Berg manages to do it without ever making the film feel exploitative. Definitely worth catching this one if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

Green Room (2016)

As far as non-supernatural horror-thrillers go, Green Room is about as terrifying as you can get.

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the film is about members of a punk rock band who witness a crime while performing at a remote neo-Nazi bar and end up barricading themselves inside the titular green room (basically the waiting area/change room for performers), with a gang of vicious skinheads — led by Patrick Stewart, no less — out for their blood.

As he did with the acclaimed Blue Ruin, Saulnier takes this semi-original premise and turns it into a stripped-down, horrific, visceral experience. After a short build-up, the film gets insanely tense and claustrophobic. I don’t want to give away too much because the element of surprise works to the film’s (and your) advantage, though I must warn that you need a good stomach to sit through it, because there are some absolutely shocking images that will stick with you for a long time. It’s just a really brutal, uncompromising ordeal that forces you to place yourself in the shoes of the characters. What would you do in such a nightmarish situation?

This is the kind of film that proves that you don’t need a big budget or special effects to make a great horror flick. As long as you’ve got a director with the right vision and skills and well-cast, talented actors, you can create nail-biting tension and the thrills needed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Speaking of the cast (sigh), the late Anton Yelchin is magnificent as Pat, the bassist, exuding just the right amount of fear, desperation and vulnerability for the role. Patrick Stewart doesn’t have a big role, but he really showed me a different side to Professor X. The dude is straight up malicious. Apart from Yelchin and Stewart, Alia Shawkat (from Arrested Development), Mark Webber and Imogen Poots are the other known commodities. They’re all really good, Poots especially.

Granted, Green Room doesn’t look pretty and can be a harrowing experience — and hence not for everyone. But if you enjoy being terrified and can appreciate stripped-down, low-budget films that are well-made and acted, you really can’t get much better than this. With a running time of just 95 minutes, there’s no excuse for not checking it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

 

The first Jack Reacher film received mixed reviews and complaints about the casting of Tom Cruise (since the character is supposed to be 6’5″ in the books), but I was one of its biggest advocators. It was well-paced, intense, and Bourne-like in terms of some of the action sequences. It built the character of Jack Reacher into someone who could carry a film franchise, and I was looking forward to what dangers and mysteries he would face next.

For those who have seen the trailers, you’ll know the movie starts off with a promising bang, reminding us that Reacher is a deadly weapon and a genius detective who likes to teach bad guys a lesson. The narrative then takes Reacher to his old military headquarters to meet with Major Susan Turner (played by Colbie Smulders), but when he gets there she finds out that she’s been arrested. Of course, there’s some kind of conspiracy involved, and Reacher becomes embroiled in it and must figure out the mystery before it’s too late.

Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ended up being really flat and just a notch or two down in every category. Reacher is less charismatic and likable this time around, and the plot simply isn’t very interesting. There are way too many thriller cliches — especially when it comes to an annoying young girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter (Danika Yarosh) — and the action itself is uninspiring.

Colbie Smulders tries really hard to infuse some energy, but even Tom Cruise looked a little tired. It’s a little bit of a shock because Cruise always has so much bouncy enthusiasm, and filmmaker Edward Zwick is clearly capable given his strong CV (Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire, Love and Other Drugs). For some reason, however, the movie lacked the same kinetic energy that director Christopher McQuarrie was able to give to the first Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

While it’s not terrible, there’s also nothing about Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that is memorable. I’m hoping this was an anomaly and the franchise can get back on track if they proceed with a third film. It has made US$160 million on a US$60 million budget thus far, so it’s definitely possible that Jack Reacher WILL go back after all.

2.5 stars out of 5

Morgan (2016)

Just about every year, there are a couple of movie releases that will take me by surprise. They kind of popped up out of nowhere, with no buzz or early trailers, but feature a cast of big Hollywood names. Morgan is one such film.

The first time I actually saw snippets of the Morgan trailer and poster was actually the weekend before its release. I had never heard of it and couldn’t believe it when I found out that it starred the likes of Kate Mara, Rose Leslie, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook (soon to be seen as the main villain in Logan), and Anya Taylor-Joy (who was absolutely brilliant in The Witch).

The poster seemed intriguing as well, dominated by a dark, hooded figure I could only presume was the eponymous protagonist (or antagonist, if you will). The trailer gave away wait too much as usual, but essentially, Kate Mara plays some sort of risk assessment manager who ventures into a secluded research facility that managed to genetically engineer a synthetic human being, ie Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Pretty much everyone else in the cast is a scientist or a handler of some sort.

I was definitely intrigued. It seemed like a thinking person’s horror movie, with elements of Ex Machina and shades of the underrated Splice. Yes, it is yet another one of those “man should not mess with nature” or “living creatures should not be kept in captivity” cautionary tales, but the fact that such a great cast had faith in the project suggested to me that it would be worth watching.

Well, I was about half right. Morgan turned out to be borderline watchable. What started off as a compelling premise and some early tension soon crumbled into predictability and genre tropes. We all know Morgan’s not as innocent as she seems and that she will get out of her glass box eventually. But instead of pursuing the more interesting and thought-provoking opportunities the premise offers, Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley (who produced the film), chose to indulge in the usual slasher and horror cliches. The action isn’t handled too shabbily, though it would be a stretch to call it outstanding. Same goes for the horror elements — Morgan (both the character and the film itself) never really scared me.

At some point in the movie, it also became impossible to not guess the “twist” at the end. It’s just so obvious and telegraphed that when it is finally revealed there is no sense of shock whatsoever.

Still, I have to be fair. Morgan is still at least serviceable and better than most of the straight-to-DVD horror-thrillers these days. The initial set-up is interesting, I’ll give it that, and the execution — whether it is the action, tension, or horror — is passable. Throw in a star-studded cast who genuinely seemed to put in effort rather than mail it in for a paycheck, and you end up with a movie that isn’t a complete waste of time but could have been so much better.

2.5 stars out of 5

Inferno (2016)

inferno_ver4

Let’s be honest: No one was really looking forward to Inferno, the latest adaptation of Dan Brown’s “Robert Langdon” adventure series starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard. Well, maybe except me.

For whatever reason, the Langdon books have not translated well to the big screen. The Da Vinci Code was a relative disappointment given the hype, though I thought—if you could take the preposterousness seriously—Angels and Demons was an improvement and even occasionally exciting. But I knew Inferno was facing an uphill battle because any remaining Da Vinci Code hype had likely evaporated, and the book, which came out 3 years ago (review here), was not as good as its predecessors.

That said, I really wanted to like Inferno. I am still a sucker for adventure thrillers that wove in real history and puzzle-solving, shady government organisations and operatives, and plots that feature intriguing twists and turns.

And Inferno certainly had potential, starting off with a bang by getting right into the heart of the film’s core issue—the overpopulation of the Earth—with snippets of a presentation from Bertrand Zobrist (Best Foster), an extremist billionaire who believes the human race is heading to extinction because population growth is spiralling out of control. Before long, we’re getting horrific images of hell as described by Dante’s epic poem, Inferno, and a Tom Hanks—with normal hair too—who appears to be in the most pain he’s been in since he had urinary tract infection in The Green Mile.

So far so good. In terms of basic elements, Inferno has it all: An attractive woman who decides to help Langdon out (this time it’s the lovely Felicity Jones), a dangerous assassin (Ana Ularu), government operatives you don’t know if you can trust (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen), and a shady underground organisation (headed by Irrfan Khan).

As you would expect, Tom Hanks spends much of the movie running around Europe with Felicity Jones, solving riddles and piecing together puzzles while dodging bullets and trying to shake their pursuers. Having learned from the mistakes of Da Vinci Code, much of the exposition (the historical facts and stuff about Dante, in particular) is summarised and explained on the go, so that the momentum isn’t slowed.

And yet, it still feels like there’s a whole lot of expository dialogue all throughout the film. It’s one of those situations where you have two leading experts on Dante who keep telling each other facts they already know about Dante. It’s for the benefit of the audience, of course, but it feels awfully clumsy and trite. Perhaps that’s the fatal problem in adapting all of these Langdon movies—there’s just no way of explaining the most interesting parts of the books in a way that’s doesn’t come across as either boring or stupid in the films.

Furthermore, while some elements from the book have already been streamlined for the film (including the ending), the story is still so outrageously preposterous and filled with plot holes that it becomes hard to take seriously. I was more forgiving in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons about these sorts of things, but in this film it got to the extent where I couldn’t simply ignore it. The plot was far too silly for the film to take itself so seriously, and that’s why I’ve tended to enjoy the National Treasure films more.

Look, the cast is good, the performances are decent, the production values are solid, and you’ll always get a certain level of quality whenever Hanks and Howard are involved. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t bring myself to like Inferno. While I didn’t dislike the film, it just felt like they were just going through the motions because they were contracted to do the movie. Having been intrigued by The Da Vinci Code and surprisingly thrilled by Angels and DemonsInferno came out as easily the tamest and least inspiring of the trilogy.

2.75 stars out of 5