By Kirby Davis, Staff Writer

If you’ve seen its predecessors, ‘The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” you’ve essentially seen “Inferno.”

The latest installment in the saga following ancient mystery-solving professor Robert Langdon (based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novels) is set in Florence, Italy. Its mystery, naturally, revolves around one of the city’s most storied inhabitants, Dante, and his poem about the nine circles of hell, “Inferno.”

Tom Hanks returns as Langdon for the third time, and his standard pretty, foreign, brunette sidekick is played by Felicity Jones.

After a brief opening in which a mysterious man evades his pursuers by flinging himself off a tower, we see Langdon waking up in a Florence hospital, bloody and crippled with amnesia. A woman promptly breaks into his room and attempts to kill him and his doctor, Sienna (Jones).

The two gradually piece together clues left behind by the man who committed suicide in the opening scene, realizing that he intends to make Dante’s “Inferno” into a “Percy Jackson”-style mythological prophecy. This elusive figure, Zobrist (Ben Foster), has engineered a virus meant to wipe out half the Earth’s population, as he feels it’s inevitable anyway with our rate of population growth and climate change.

Thus begins a breakneck quest on Langdon and Sienna’s part to locate this virus before it can be released and infect the public while being hunted down by multiple organizations on Zobrist’s side.

These Robert Langdon films don’t work because so much of their storylines take place inside the mind of the brilliant Harvard symbologist or those of his child prodigy cohorts. Watching them, and “Inferno” in particular, requires an extraordinary amount of effort just to play catch-up with the main characters’ racing minds. It takes any fun out of what could have been a dark, sensibly twisted thriller.

The novel upon which “Inferno” is based is also a little muddled and far-fetched, blurring the lines between real-world problems and ancient, mythological ones but never quite connecting them. Still, the book had me gripped until its conclusion while the film pretty much lost me after its opening scene — from there, it’s mostly a downhill spiral of unsettling visions suffered by Langdon, betrayals and confusing chase sequences.

“The Da Vinci Code,” an enthralling, masterfully plotted novel and a prequel to “Inferno,” also tanked as a film. Again, their stories are too internalized and reliant on the main characters’ thought processes to translate visually onto the big screen.

“Inferno” is remarkably convoluted. It’s hard enough trying to keep up with the treasure-hunting goose chase Langdon and Sienna embark on following their return from the hospital. But it’s nearly impossible to make sense of who the good and bad guys are, who is trying to kill our protagonists at any given moment and, at times, who the protagonists themselves are.

The grating electronic soundtrack doesn’t help, and neither does the fact that “Inferno” is yet another forgettable, unnecessary sequel that no one seemed to want or ask for.

This film isn’t lacking in talented actors. Hanks and Jones, who’s been quietly dazzling audiences since 2011’s “Like Crazy,” are better than this, and so is villain Irrfan Khan. But the novel upon which it’s based simply doesn’t translate well to film. It’s a watchable, but unenjoyable mess of disjointed flashbacks, confusing betrayals and ancient Italian relics.

It takes two compelling, albeit conventional, tropes of overpopulation and threats of a worldwide pandemic and makes them boring. “Terra Nova,” Fox’s 2011 one-season, dinosaur time-traveling show managed to pull it off with solid characters and a plot loosely based in real science, but this film fails completely.

“Inferno” is a flagrant waste of Hanks’ and Jones’ talents. It’s worse than just bad — it’s painfully average.

2/5 Stars