PLOT Harvard professor Robert Langdon returns to foil a doomsday plot inspired by Dante’s “Inferno.”

CAST Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan

RATED PG-13 (some bloody violence and morbid images)


BOTTOM LINE Silly and implausible, but mostly watchable.

Dan Brown’s 2003 best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,” about a professor entangled in a dangerous plot against the Catholic church, was a dopey book that tricked you into feeling smart. How could you not, after following its hero, Harvard art and religion scholar Robert Langdon, as he used his arcane knowledge to uncover cryptic clues hidden in famous masterpieces? Though painfully contrived and falteringly written, “The Da Vinci Code” was a work of genre fiction that turned your plane ride into a supercool graduate seminar.

Maybe that’s why “The Da Vinci Code,” as both a book and film series, has inspired such dead-serious discussion about Christianity and medieval history: Nobody wanted to admit that it was just good, dumb fun. “Inferno,” the third movie in the franchise, thankfully has fewer pretensions than its predecessors. Inevitably, though, it’s also far less fresh and interesting.

“Inferno” skimps on the religious hokum and instead focuses on a plain old doomsday plot. Our villain is Bertrand Zobrist, a mad billionaire who wants to reduce global overpopulation by unleashing a custom-designed plague. Zobrist, played nicely by Ben Foster as an arrogant tech type, seems inspired — if only superficially — by Dante’s “Inferno.” That’s how our academic hero, Langdon, enters the picture.

Once again played by the dependable Tom Hanks, Langdon remains an appealingly smart, non-brawny action hero — all Jones, no Indiana. He wakes up in the care of pretty doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who diagnoses him with amnesia (talk about a contrivance!) and who also just happens to be well-versed in Dante. Together they must scramble through Europe, chased by a possibly corrupt World Health Organization, to locate Zobrist’s plague bomb. The great Irrfan Khan plays Harry Sims, a blasé operative who takes murder and chaos in stride. “Not my best work,” he says while staging a crime scene, “but it’ll do for the Italians.”

With returning director Ron Howard behind the camera, “Inferno” registers as mostly watchable nonsense, enlivened by action sequences inside such glittering tourist attractions as Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio and Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. “Inferno” is passable entertainment overall, but you won’t feel any smarter when it’s over.

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