“There are among us a people gifted with a perfect memory of all their past lives. They call themselves Infinites!” So says Mark Wahlberg less than a minute into Infinite, the hacky and dreadfully blah sci-fi action pic from director Antoine Fuqua. Wahlberg doesn’t usually do voice-over narration in his movies, and it’s easy to see (or rather, hear) why – he’s very bad at it. Infinite thankfully doesn’t have wall-to-wall Wahlberg voice-overs, but when it happens, you’ll be in awe at how out of his element Wahlberg seems. He sounds as if he’s reading his lines, and reading them for the very first time, too. On top of that, he sounds like he doesn’t understand the words that he’s looking at, as if he were reading a foreign language and trying to pronounce things phonetically.
I’m not saying ditching the voice-over would save Infinite – it’s too far gone for that. But it sure wouldn’t hurt.
Infinite, which was once destined for theaters but is now headed straight to Paramount+, is a slapdash bit of hokum; a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that’s cobbled together from bits of pieces of pretty much every big action blockbuster from the last 20-something years. The Matrix is the biggest influence here – the story unfolds in a manner that follows that film almost beat for beat. But there are also bits and pieces lifted from John Wick, Inception, the Mission: Impossible franchise, and, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Infinite isn’t just derivative – it’s the cinematic equivalent of an unprepared high schooler leaning over and copying test answers from the student sitting at the closest desk.
Wahlberg is Evan McCauley, a guy who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 14. This has created some problems for Evan, and when we first meet him, he completely botches a job interview by more or less threatening his potential employer with violence. Things are so dire for Evan that he resorts to buying his schizophrenia medication from seedy drug dealers. This gives Wahlberg a chance to deliver voice-over lines like, “These meds, they’re running out. And when they do, shit gets real!” Mm, I bet.
Despite all his problems, Evan is gifted at many things. He can hand-craft a sword using ancient techniques. He knows the capital of Burkina Faso off the top of his head. He can make gunpowder from scratch. The weird thing is, he never studied these things – he just knows them, almost like he’s remembering them. Cue the ominous music.
Evan runs into a bit of trouble and ends up arrested and deposited into an interrogation room. Enter a mysterious, well-dressed, and vaguely threatening man, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. This mystery man claims he knows Evan, but Evan has no memory of him. At least at first. But he’ll quickly learn that this guy is someone named Bathurst. And Bathurst and Evan did know each other – in many different lives.
Because as it turns out, Evan isn’t schizophrenic after all. The disturbing visions that landed him that diagnosis are actually memories of past lives. Evan is one of those Infinites he told us about the moment the movie started, and in his most recent life, he was someone named Treadway, played by Dylan O’Brien in a prologue and a few flashback moments. This turns out to be a major miscalculation. Wahlberg may be the bigger star, but O’Brien has a lot more charisma. And even though he has a fraction of the screen time Wahlberg has, he makes a much better impression. You’ll find yourself wishing he was the star. I bet he’d be better at the voice-overs, too.
Evan/Treadway and his pals, including Sophie Cookson playing a token female character who is so poorly defined she might as well not exist, are known as the Believers. They love living multiple lives and strive to learn as much as they can and keep that knowledge going every time they’re reborn. Treadway was so good at learning new things that he actually found a way to manipulate reality. You know, like Neo, in The Matrix.
Bathurst, in contrast, is a member of the Infinite subgroup known as the Nihilists. They’re sick and tired of dying only to be reborn again. Since there’s apparently no way to unsubscribe from the Infinite lifestyle, Bathurst has cooked up a MacGuffin device known as the Egg. It’s basically a bomb that will somehow destroy the entire world – the logic being that if everyone is dead, there’s no way someone can be reborn. Pretty clever, Bathurst. Wait, did I say clever? I meant very, very stupid. And in case you didn’t catch that Bathurst is the bad guy, we’re told that he’s found a way to trap the souls of Infinites in a kind of “digital purgatory,” keeping them from being born again. Why doesn’t he just send himself to digital purgatory instead of trying to destroy existence? Don’t ask! The movie sure doesn’t.
Infinite comes across as if it’s trying to create its own lore and mythology, but everything here feels borrowed or stolen. Marvel doesn’t have the market cornered on world-building – plenty of other franchises have pulled this off. And they’ve done so by seeming original. John Wick is a great recent example of this. It’s slick, stylish, and feels fresh, even if it’s not entirely original. And think back to another Keanu Reeves series – The Matrix. The first Matrix may have borrowed elements from anime, but it still felt like something we’d never seen before. Infinite, on the other hand, is as recycled as the reincarnated characters that populate its frames.
Fuqua can occasionally deliver the goods, but he’s on autopilot here. Save for an admittedly well-shot car chase scene, the action is lifeless and flat. There’s a moment where Wahlberg jumps a motorcycle onto the wing of a plane, and you get the sense that the film is trying to emulate the dangerous stunts of the Mission: Impossible franchise. But those stunts are usually real, or at the very least look real, whereas Wahlberg’s bike jump looks like a video game cutscene. The overall appearance of the film is dreary, bordering on bland. Nothing here looks as cool as the folks making the film apparently thought it did.
The only sign of life comes from Jason Mantzoukas, who pops up as a character known as the Artisan. He’s someone who can help people remember their forgotten past lives, or something like that. It’s not very clearly defined, but Mantzoukas has a lot of fun with the role regardless. In truth, he appears to be acting in a completely different movie. Perhaps a better one. Ejiofor also shows signs of life when he first enters the pic, but eventually, his performance succumbs to fatigue. Perhaps he got bored. I know I did.
There’s nothing wrong with silly, even mindless action movies. There exists a whole slew of ’em that are an absolute blast to watch. But they get by on their entertainment value. There’s nothing entertaining about Infinite. It just sits there, lifeless, hoping to become a full-blown franchise with sequels galore. I doubt that’ll happen at this point, though. Send this one to digital purgatory where it belongs.
/Film Rating: 3 out of 10
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