A film review by Craig J. Koban September 13, 2021

INFINITE j
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2021, PG-13, 106 mins.

Mark Wahlberg as Evan McCauley  /  Dylan O'Brien as Heinrich Treadway  /  Rupert Friend as Bathurst  /  Chiwetel Ejiofor  as Bathurst  /  Sophie Cookson as Nora  /  Tom Hughes as Abel  /  Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as Kovic  /  Toby Jones as Kent  /  Jason Mantzoukas as Peabody 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua  /  Written by Todd Stein, based on the book THE REINCARNATIONIST PAPERS by D. Eric Maikranz

You know that hilarious GIF that's been circulating online for years that features Mark Wahlberg's character from THE HAPPENING looking utterly confused as to what's happening to the world around him?  

You know the one I'm talking about.  Just Google search "Mark Wahlberg GIFS" and it will literally be among the top 4 or 5 that generate. 

Anyhoo', now that you know what I'm talking about, you'll understand me when I say that I had the exact same reaction while watching INFINITE, which is equal parts befuddling, woefully derivative, and yes, awful. 

I can just imagine the pitch meetings for this sci-fi brain bender (heavy emphasis on the brain bending, but not in a good way): Battle hardened soldiers with the power of reincarnation - some good, some evil, but with both sides being able to live seemingly forever - wage a centuries old conflict over the fate of the known world.  Both sides are looking for a MacGuffin (or, in this film's case, an Egg MacGuffin) that has the power to end every human life on Earth.  Caught between this massive battle to end all battles is an ordinary Joe that becomes the "one" that can save everyone.   

Sounds cool, right? 

I'm sure that the makers here pitched INFINITE as THE MATRIX meets THE OLD GUARD meets any random MCU entry.  I would have added - if in the room - except way, way more nonsensically dumb.  INFINITE has cool ideas up the proverbial yin-yang, but no idea whatsoever how to harness these cool ideas into a workable and enjoyable action/sci-fi adventure, which is probably why this film was unceremoniously dumped to Paramount's new streaming service as opposed to being granted a full cinema release (granted, COVID spoiled its original theatrical release party, but still...).  What's perhaps most damning is that this is directed so half-heartedly by Antoine Fuqua, who's no stranger to hard boiled pulp fiction action.  That's a real shame, not to mention that his star and co-producer in Wahlberg - in pure THE HAPPENING Wahlbergian form - looks mostly stiff and confused throughout this mess of a lame franchise starter. 

Wahlberg just never seems invested in the material at all (which is telling, seeing as he was reportedly an eleventh hour replacement for Chris Evans, who was originally cast, but had to vacate...smart of him to do so).  You can sense Wahlberg's limitless boredom here within the opening seconds of the film, during which time he dryly - okay, ultra dryly - provides one of the worst phoned-in voiceover narrations this side of Harrison Ford in the original BLADE RUNNER to give viewers insight into INFINITE's premise and world (if this film's mission was to put me to sleep this early on...then...mission accomplished).  At least the opening action sequence is okay and tries to breathe some visceral life into the production early on, which features one of the good guy immortal reincarnators in possession of the aforementioned Egg MacGuffin (it's literally an egg) that's being perused by evil immortal reincarnators.  This sequence has a pulse. I'll give it that.  The rest of the film built after that needs a defibrillator. 

 

 

We then meet Wahlberg's downtrodden everyman Evan, who's battling schizophrenia and has mostly won that battle, but is having a great deal of trouble securing work because of his condition and the stigma that it creates with prospective employers.  Weirdly, Evan possesses a bewildering assortment of special skills and abilities for unknown reasons.  He seems like a walking encyclopedia of knowledge for things that he never studied in school and, in an unintentionally hilarious reveal, is able to forge and manufacture an ancient samurai sword from scratch.  Now, how the unemployed and destitute Evan is able to do this is one of the many things that INFINITE doesn't fully explain.  Well, the film does explain that he makes these swords to sell to vile drug dealers to get his schizophrenia meds. 

After getting into it with the law after a botched sword deal that went south real fast, Evan is apprehended and interrogated by Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofer), who certainly appears to be no mere mortal police investigator as he begins to insist that Evan has actually known him for centuries.  Thankfully, another good immortal (they're the "Believers") named Nora (Sophie Cookson) swoops in to save Evan and takes him back to her people, who form a group called The Infinite that is made of a slew of other reincarnators that have honed their abilities for hundreds of years.  Evan learns that Bathrust is on the bad side - known as The Nihilists - and wants the Egg MacGuffin to destroy all life.  Evans decides that it's in his best interests to join up with the Believers to take on Bathurst and the Nihilists, and soon learns that he may himself be a reincarnated being with ties to a past Believer agent that once possessed the Egg MacGuffin. 

Phew. 

It's pretty apparent very early on in INFINITE that it's the loosest of loose patchwork jobs, arbitrarily and hopelessly cherry picking and trying to bring together multiple different genres and films in hopes of making something innovative and fresh.  This film is like a car made up of so many spare parts that the make and model becomes almost impossible to discern.  We get snippets of, yes, THE MATRIX, a little bit of THE OLD GUARD (an - cough, cough - infinitely better film about immortals), a smattering of INCEPTION, and even a little bit of the JASON BOURNE series tossed in (in regards to a main character that has no memory or knowledge of who he really is).  Again, it's not that INFINITE isn't interesting on paper, but as a high concept sci-fi action thriller it fails on levels of basic execution and world building.  Plus, it becomes very easy to start lambasting the multitude of plot holes that riddle the film, like, for example, the fact that Bathurst has a very nifty looking weapon (called the Dethroner...love that!) that's able to wipe an immortal's brain, making them none the wiser as to their immortal status.  Since Bathurst is tormented by his own immortal status, why not just use the gun on himself?  Why go on the arduously tough mission to find the Egg MacGuffin and then use it to destroy the world?  Plus, he's facing off against an adversary in Evan that already has memory loss issues about his reincarnating status.  How is he a threat to Bathurst?  It's enough to make your head burst...or Bathurst, if you follow me.. 

Speaking of Evan, Wahlberg is such a blank slate bore in this role that you have to constantly remind yourself that he's a crucial power player in this global struggle that's worthy of our interest.  Hell, the actor doesn't even have the courage to play things hilariously broad (as was the case with his appearance in the TRANSFORMERS films) or bizarrely idiotic (again, see THE HAPPENING) and instead just sleepwalks through the film.  Ejiofer is in pure pay check mode with his baddie, but at least he fully embraces the outlandish nature of the material he's given.  The side characters surrounding these two headliners are very weakly developed, like Cookson's highly dexterous sidekick or an Infinite aligned researcher played by Toby Jones.  He appears and then reappears in the film, often leading to viewers forgetting that he was even a character to follow in the first place.  The acting from everyone on board ranges from middling to horribly wooden, and when you don't have anyone here that we care about it becomes equally hard to care about the stakes of the story, especially when it careens towards (sigh) an open ended franchise extending ending that hints at a sequel that will probably never happen. 

Two last things that I hated about INFINITE: Firstly, I loathed how the makers here used mental illness as a cheap plot device to propel the material forward as opposed to making it feel organic to the hero's journey.  The handling of schizophrenia in the film is offensively simplistic: Evan hears voices in his head, has mysterious visions, engages in recklessly criminal activities to fund his meds...only to ultimately find out that he's not mentally unwell at all and actually might be a reincarnated former Believer agent.  Wow.  Just...wow.  Secondly, the usually highly competent Fuqua quarterbacks the multiple action and stunt sequences here with bombastic incoherence, favoring head spinning visual chaos over symmetry and flow.  By the time INFINITE hurtled towards its sluggishly bloated third act on pure CGI heavy autopilot the film became so noisy, so hard to follow, and so assaulting on the senses that I wanted to tap out.  This film is a sloppy mess as far as globetrotting sci-fi thrillers go and does little to instill genuine awe and wonder in its core mythology.  It's the kind of genre effort that you're left wondering how much better it all could have been under a more watchful, diligent, and imaginative eye.  Instead, it's soulless, lazy, and uninspired, thereby failing to make this viewer a full believer in the material. 

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