2020, No MPAA Rating, 100 mins.
Bella Thorne as Arielle / Jake Manley as Dean / Amber Riley as Elle / Michael Sirow as Kyle / Marisa Coughlan as Janet / Billy Blair as TimWritten and directed by Joshua Caldwell
INFAMOUS is one of those criminals on the run thrillers that liberally borrows from the DNA of past great films like BONNIE & CLYDE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS without having much in the way of its own voice with the subject matter.
contained within this Joshua Caldwell written and directed effort is as
old of the hills: A pair of young drifter/lovers find themselves
committing a robbery spree across America, angering law enforcement, but
catching the strange adulation of the general public.
INFAMOUS desperately tries to put a modern day spin on the whole
proceedings in making one of the crooks in question a wanna-be social
media influencer that's craving Insta-stardom, which is a compelling and
potentially fresh angle that one could take with this material.
Unfortunately, INFAMOUS doesn't offer much in the way of intriguing
insight into our modern social media obsessed culture and how that's tied
into criminal culture. For
the most part, Caldwell's film is regrettably stuck in genre copycat mode
and is seemingly incapable of serving up a refreshing new prerogative in a
well worn genre.
The film stars
Bella Thorne in (on a positive) a thanklessly dedicated lead performance
as Arielle (yes, named after THE LITTLE MERMAID herself), who's one of
those obligatory small town white trash sexpots that works most of her
days at a go-no-where diner as a waitress.
Her home life is not much better either, seeing as her mother is
barely at home and her live-in boyfriend is a bona fide loser.
This Florida native seems glued to her smart phone on a
minute-by-minute basis, but she's a no one from no where, leaving her like
count on Instagram seriously lacking (granted, a real woman as attractive
as Bella Thorne would probably have zero problem getting more than ten
likes on a sultry social media post, but I digress).
Hmmmmmm...if there was only some way this young woman could become
an instant overnight media sensation?
Fate steps in
with Dean (Jake Manley, who looks here like the love child of a young Brad
Pitt and Nick Stahl), who's the resident bad boy grease monkey of the town
that - gasp! - has done time (yeah...he's that bad of a
boy). Even though Arielle's
BFFs tell her to not come within ten feet of this ex-con, she seems
hopelessly drawn to him and becomes more smitten by the day. Within no time, the pair become an inseparable couple, but
Dean realizes that - with his past and parole obligations - he has to keep
a very low profile to not get in trouble.
Rather predictably, trouble does find the pair with a violent
skirmish one evening with Dean's abusive father, with the pair
accidentally killing him in the process (this occurred after Arielle
viciously attacked her mother's boyfriend after accusing him of stealing
her life's saving that she idiotically kept in a shoe box under her bed).
Realizing that they can't stay in town, the pair flee immediately,
but soon realize that they're crazy low on cash.
No problem, as they decide to cloak their faces and rob random
convenience stores, which Arielle - in a move not entirely smart while
being on the run - live streams the footage to her new social media
astonishment, the videos she posts starts to gain a huge cult following,
and a thousand views turns into millions and her follower base skyrockets,
propelling her to the types of limitless online fame that she once only
dreamed of. Dean, rather
logically, thinks her posting of their robberies online is a really,
really bad idea, but he oddly continues to allow for her do just that.
As Arielle and Dean's fame rises, so does the former's nerve to try
just about anything. Within
no time, their petty robberies gives way to murder, which leads to even
more heat being placed on them...but even more fame.
Dean is the pragmatist of the pair and understands that they're on
a road to oblivion and probably capture, whereas Arielle has become
addicted to likes and follows and can see no end in sight.
Even when the film's plotting takes some questionable detours, it's
marginally held together by the decent chemistry between Manley and
Thorne. The actress in
particular - an Instagram celeb in her own right in real life - is pretty
convincing as her delusional, social
media hungry crook that grows more amoral with her methods as the film
progresses. She has an
infectious exuberance here alongside and an increasingly chillingly warped
view of right and wrong.
irony of having a social media queen play a criminal yearning to be a
social media queen aside, the one aspect that truly hurts INFAMOUS
compared to, say, BONNIE & CLYDE is that Arielle and Dean (more so
with her) are not particularly likeable anti-heroes on the run at all.
Besides succumbing to some decidedly evil and psychotic behavior
late in the story, I found little rooting interest in this couple that
start to amass a rather large kill count.
They're simply not very sympathetic in any way shape or form.
Arielle especially is so annoyingly self-interested in her
unhealthy fixation of being an Internet star that she starts to make some
categorically idiotic decisions that most criminals on the run, I assume,
would not make. I guess there's no need to question
whether or not live streaming countless armed robberies is a good move for
any career thief. Now,
there's a counter argument to be made that we would have no movie if
Arielle didn't post their crimes online for the world to see, but it
doesn't make for airtight scripting wither.
When it boils right down to it, it's a fairly brainless gimmick
used to propel the plot artificially forward, and not much else.
I'd be willing to
forgive all of this if INFAMOUS, as already mentioned, was smarter about
what it wanted to say about the intersection of criminal behavior, the
extreme violence caused by it, and the insatiable allure of social media.
Mournfully, Caldwell's script is pretty tone deaf and intellectually
bankrupt in this pursuit, and most of what it's trying to relay as a
cautionary tale about mentally unstable people seeking fame and fortune
via unscrupulous means has a pathetic obviousness to it and lacks complex
subtlety. This film's idea of
provocative is having its Bonnie and Clyde doppelgangers record their
misdeeds...but that's about it. If
INFAMOUS wanted to comment on how the pull of the social media spotlight
makes attention seekers do insanely stupid things, then I think there
would be more of a film here. There's
one would-be compelling subplot involving a young admirer of Arielle and
Dean's (Amber Riley) being held captive by the pair...and not minding it
all too much because of just how cool she thinks there are.
Sadly, this character is jettisoned by the bare bones screenplay
just as it was developing into something interesting.
There are other creative missteps that abound here as well, like the film beginning at the end and then flashing us back to past and building up to a climax that take us to the beginning again (movies have to stop using this tired bookend device). There's also a device of having Arielle break the fourth wall early on to address us in the film that's all but abandoned and rarely used again. The final robbery in the film's final act is also running on pure Idiot Plot Syndrome and is only put in motion because the people in this film that are orchestrating it...are idiots. Caldwell, to his credit, creates some visual interest here and there (his film looks both suitably and stylistically grungy and makes great use of location shooting), and Thorne gives a performance that's a far cry more well rounded than what she was obviously given on the written page. But too much of INFAMOUS is shallow minded and awkwardly handled, and once you begin to realize that there's simply nothing under the hood of this BONNIE & CLYDE for the Twitter and Instagram generation then it becomes a crime thriller that's easy to forget within minutes after watching it. All throughout INFAMOUS I was constantly thinking that a documentary chronicling Bella Thorne's own rise as a social media influencer would have probably offered more insight into that aspect of contemporary celebrity culture than what this half baked film did.