Infinite has some of the most intense dumb guy energy of any movie in recent years, and I mean that as a high compliment.
For a long time it seems sci-fi action movies have consisted of either massive franchises like Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible, attempts at brainy sci-fi like Tenet, or meat-and-potatoes, old-guy-beats-up-bad-guys movies like Taken. Whatever happened to goofy, high-concept schlock that introduced elaborate mythologies that could only be solved through equally elaborate martial arts and gunplay? I’m talking your Limitlesses, your Lucys, your Equilibriums — movies with complex conceits, laughable dialogue, and endlessly watchable action. Enter Infinite, which asks, what if Marky Mark played a reincarnated samurai?
Infinite, available to stream on Paramount and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Shooter), is entertainingly goofy, and dumb mostly in the right ways. You may not entirely buy in, but when you’ve got Mark Wahlberg jumping his motorcyle onto a cargo plane mid-air and stabbing the wing with a sword, do you really need to?
Say hiiiii to your mother for meeeeeeee!
Infinite begins with a premise fit for YA fiction: there are people living among us who can remember all of their past lives, and the particular sets of skills they acquired during those past lives. Those people are known as “the infinite,” and they are divided into two warring factions: the “believers,” who would use their powers to benefit humanity, and “nihilists,” who consider their total recall powers a burden and humanity a virus. No, the script, by Ian Shorr, Todd Stein, and D. Eric Maikranz, is not big on nuance. (Sidenote: I like to imagine that “D. Eric” was originally named Deric).
Luckily, Infinite is long on incorporating elements of other movies in entertaining ways. Wahlberg plays Evan McCauley, a schizophrenic ex-bouncer who’s having trouble finding work on account of the documented history of schizophrenia. What he lacks in a consistent paycheck he makes up for in the ability to forge razor-sharp samurai swords like a 15th century Japanese blacksmith. “Are there things that you can just do, and you don’t know why?” Wahlberg narrates out loud, while pounding red hot steel with a sledgehammer somewhere in New York City.
In one of the first scenes, McCauley trades one of his Hattori Hanzo blades to a Drexel Spivey-esque drug dealer in exchange for the unnamed pills he needs to silence the vivid dreams of his past lives. It eventually turns into a crime scene, McCauley’s sword raises some eyebrows at the police station, and the next thing he knows he’s sitting across an interrogation table from the movie’s head bad guy, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. “Bathhurst,” it turns out, has been tracking Wahlberg’s character, Treadway (McCauley being only his latest name) across lifetimes in order to recover a device called “The Egg.” Bathhurst needs the egg to “unwind DNA” and end all life on Earth.
The bad guy who wants to destroy all life in the universe has, obviously, become a bit of a cliché thanks to virtually every Marvel movie. Yet the new twist here, that the bad guy instantly reincarnates with a memory of all of his past lives every time he dies, hates humanity and himself, and essentially can’t commit suicide without taking all life with him, is kind of a fun one. What do you want? I want me to die, Mr. Bond.
Wahlberg’s character, meanwhile, is basically Jason Bourne and Quaid from Total Recall, realizing that he’s not crazy and actually the key to saving the universe one remembered skill at a time. But with an added Cloud Atlas twist that his abilities aren’t just chopsocky and gunplay. They might be something he learned in an 8th century Tibetan monastery or on board a 17th-century pirate ship. It sounds a little like a skill Jared Leto might claim after a few days of meditation in a yurt.
Leto actually might’ve been a better casting choice. Wahlberg is surprisingly useless in a role that should’ve been a slam dunk. Oddly, in a tailor-made dumb guy movie, which would’ve been perfectly suited to the kind of meathead wonder Wahlberg brought to Boogie Nights and The Fighter, he looks instead like he’s doing a Ryan Reynolds impression in a failed audition for the next Joss Whedon picture. He’s reduced to spouting gee-whiz exposition, eyes bugging as he shouts “Holy shit, that felt freakin’ real!” and “You’re talking about reincarnation!” like an over-caffeinated Redditor. This is a guy who can forge a samurai sword in his apartment and jump on planes with a motorcycle, why did they make him such a cringe dork? Past lives? Hecka freakin’ cool, you guys!
For a movie that spent so much time developing an entire mythology and universe, very little seems to have gone into what the characters want or why they need to go from place to place. Bathhurst has to go to Scotland to unleash his egg thingy and then he takes it on a plane for some reason. The motivations are nonsensical, but Infinite is consistently ridiculous enough to work as spectacle. Bathhurst, for instance, has a gun that sucks souls. How do you “kill” a guy who’s constantly getting reincarnated and respawning as a different dude? Download his consciousness to a thumb drive and keep his soul in your futuristic Trapper Keeper, of course.
One henchman, played by Icelandic actor Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, has a haircut so idiotic — ICE spiker on top, Lestat the Vampire on the sides — that he looks sort of like someone dosed Jack Dorsey’s raw water with HGH.
But dumb stuff isn’t prohibitive in a dumb guy action movie, provided the action is shot well. And Inifinite is. When Mark Wahlberg has to stick-fight reincarnated Egyptian pharoahs or cripple a cargo jet by stabbing it in the wing, the camera isn’t shaking around.
Infinite‘s psuedo-religious conflict, between “believers” and “nihilists” is something Christopher Nolan, or James Cameron, or The Wachowskis might’ve tried to turn into something legitimately profound. I’m not sure Fuqua is even attempting that. But even when they mostly don’t pay off, the boldness of the choices is consistently entertaining. Say hi to your sensei for me.