Antoine Fuqua’s “Infinite” Is a Good Time, Flaws and All
“There are among us, a people gifted with the perfect memory of all their past lives. They call themselves… Infinites.” Evan McCauley’s (Mark Wahberg) opening narration to Infinite makes about as much sense as the ‘80s car chase it leads into, but it doesn’t matter. It’s inviting, and sets the scene and tone for the rest of our fun 105-minute adventure.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) and Chiwitel Ejiofor (The Old Guard), Infinite is a finely-helmed piece of campy summer fare. Based (loosely) on the book The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz, the script by Ian Shorr started as a 2017 Blacklist selection before being reworked by Shorr and Todd Stein. The many revisions and changes left a script that was equal parts repetitive and incomprehensible, but not without its charm. Thankfully, a capable director and acting greats were brought on to supplement.
The plot revolves around Evan McCauley coming to terms with the idea that he’s been here before. Written off as schizophrenic, McCauley self-medicates to shut out the hallucinations or “delusions” that plague him from his former lives. He does unwittingly wield some of the powers from his past; he’s got an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge at the drop of a dime and he can also forge a mean sword.
Wait… he’s forging swords in this? But how- shh… shh… shhhh. Don’t ask questions. This movie is not here for that. Just listen to the heavily expository narration, the morality-drenched dialogue where severe mental illness is treated as myth and reincarnation is a perfectly valid cause for delusions and just give in.
No, really. You’re going to want to pull at the loose threads, but if you do, the unraveling will never end. Ignore the threads and instead watch beautiful people do impossible things at varying levels of dedication. It’ll be more fun that way. Infinite co-stars Sophie Cookson (Kingsman 2) in an unnecessary American accent, a wondrously over the top Chiwetel Ejiofor (who is basically playing the inverse of his character in The Old Guard which is kind of an inverse of this movie) and Jason Mantzoukas (The Dictator) just being himself and rocking it. The movie is beautifully shot and filled with beautiful locations, overwhelming stunts and there’s even an homage to Marvel’s Infinity War that I don’t think was purposeful, but honestly should have been. It’s all a bunch of elegantly constructed nonsense and dang it if it isn’t a treat to watch!
The entire first 8 minutes feature the tanned and bearded Dylan O’Brien (Love and Monsters) wreaking havoc in the streets of Mexico City in a souped-up late ’80s model Ferrari. He’s running from the enemy – the police and a negative force known as the Nihilists – after stealing a doomsday device called The Egg. In Infinite’s opening narration we learn there are two types of Infinites: The believers, those who think of reincarnation as a gift and responsibility, and the Nihilists, those that think of endless life as a curse and want it to end. O’Brien’s Heinrich Treadway (a name we’re told was popular during the ‘50s… the 1750s!) is dashing as he rages through the streets with egg in tow trying to meet up with his team. He and the Ferrari somehow manage to ascend the temporal plane (there are hand movements involved), and he ends up in some scaffolding fighting a Nihilist with a freaking sword!
Do I understand how the Nihilist got up there? Nope. Did it take me three watches to realize who he even was? Yup. But I did watch it 3+ times and honestly had a ball at each viewing!
It’s nonsense! But it’s the best kind of nonsense. It’s “end of the pandemic and the roaring ‘20s are here!” nonsense. The type where you just want to be around a bunch of people, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style and just root for the home team. Infinite is the perfect vehicle for just that. It’s not anything more and it doesn’t need to be. The Matrix set the tone for decades worth of “The One” stories, and while Infinite doesn’t really have anything new to add, what it does have is a desire to make this outing entertaining. It’s got everything: Jason Mantzoukas as a nonbinary hedonist, the great Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as a man being drowned in honey, Dylan O’Brien in an internet breaking sword fight. It’s a feast for the eyes and it only gives you small doses of downtime before the next explosion or fight breaks out. It’s nearly medicinal in its formula.
While it’s wrong to say that it’s only popcorn fodder, the fact remains that that’s where the movie is strongest. On one hand, at the heart of the film is a protagonist that is willing to give his life over and over just to save the lives of everyone else. On the other hand, there’s a scene where Ejiofor’s Bathurst is getting voluntarily waterboarded with gasoline so he can see the face of God. The balance of heart to ‘huh?’ is evident, but really well managed.
Wahlberg does a great job! I know, but it’s true! He’s confident, but missing the smarm that makes some of his other characters unbearable. Heck, he’s nearly relatable until we learn he forges swords for psych meds, but even then he’s still pretty likable and easy to root for. We’re shown a Pretty Woman “denied shopping” moment where Evan goes into an interview and his mental health status is used against him. Ultimately instead of a shopping spree, his redemption is finding out he’s not crazy, he’s just misunderstood – a line he delivers flawlessly in the film. It’s one of many lines he delivers in his laissez-faire Boston accent (that’s extremely tempered for the voice-overs and I don’t mind it). He’s the voice of the audience and as such asks the questions we want to ask. But because the conceit of the movie runs so highly on “because I said so”, he only ever asks once and that’s more than enough to jump on a private jet, go to the Believer’s Himalayan Hub and begin the process of recovering data from his past lives with the viewers in tow.
We get notable performances from Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Cursed) as Kovic, a counterpart at The Hub that helps train, and Liz Carr (Silent Witness) as Garrick, Bathurst’s former love and The Hub’s tech guru. The globe-trotting doesn’t end, soon we end up in a bizarre location to see Mantzoukas’s The Artisan who appears equal parts friend and foe though it’s never really explained. We head to Scotland and then the fight takes to the skies. If anything in this movie is infinite it’s surely the momentum.
There are some questionable areas that can’t go without mention. The treatment of what was assumed to be McCauley’s schizophrenia is handled much more delicately than you’d expect, but still the idea that his delusions were only caused by the return of his memories from past lives is a bit flip. At one point Evan tells Cookson’s Nora that he feels like he’s in the middle of a psychotic break and like he’s going to wake up in a hospital drugged out of his mind. She responds quickly asking, “Is that easier to believe than destiny may have something more in store for you?” and the easy answer is… “Yes!”.
However, Nora’s absolute belief makes her sprawling dialogue with Evan fall just on the right side of annoying. In fact, while everyone else seems to know exactly what this movie is and act accordingly, it’s Cookson and Wahlberg that bring such a heartfelt sincerity to their roles you feel bad holding it against them. Jones and Ejiofor play to the back of the house, while Mantzoukas and Carr do what they do best and portray heightened versions of themselves. It’s Cookson and Wahlberg that deliver several ridiculous lines as though they’re Shakespeare and it’s oddly endearing. They’re trying… for us.
There are many minor things, but there’s a yin and yang to the movie that helps balance out the missteps pushing it closer to camp. The three beautiful, young, blonde white women in this movie all look the same which did cause some confusion before the reincarnation thing was tied down. We also learn that Cookson had a life between this one and the last and it’s completely inconsequential, as though they forgot to delete it from the final edit. But all of that is easy enough to get over when Cookson saunters around looking gorgeous in form fitting, entirely uncomfortable outfits and giving us clues to the passage of time with the style of her ponytail.
I won’t lie, it’s going to be very easy to dismiss this film as pseudo sci-fi schlock, but Infinite is an extremely fun film. Its ridiculousness is its asset. Infinite is escapist and silly and the very definition of extra, but it’s kind of what’s needed as we re-enter the world. Something fun, exciting and full of visually resplendent special effects. Infinite definitely fits the bill.
Infinite was originally set to open in select theaters along with OnDemand, but in early May it was announced that it would go straight to streaming. I’m hoping the move to Paramount+ means it’s acting as a backdoor pilot that focuses on Mantzoukas’s Artisan. It’s well worth the watch if you’re in the mood for something fun.
Infinite will arrive to the Paramount+ app, Thursday, June 10th.
*I received an advance screener of this film in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
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