Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Mark Huffam, John Zaozirny, Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson Director: Antoine Fuqua Screenplay: Ian Schorr Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones, Dylan O’Brien, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Liz Carr, Kae Alexander, Wallis Day, Tom Hughes and Joana Ribeiro Distributor: Paramount+
Someday Hollywood may stop making big, dumb action movies that end with somebody with “special powers” doing battle with a villain intent on destroying humankind. But “Infinite” proves that time has, regrettably, not yet come. Antoine Fuqua’s movie was originally supposed to be released to theatres, but after several pandemic-related postponements has wound up on Paramount’s streaming service. Even for those who subscribe to Paramount+, it’s still not worth the price of admission.
Based on a book titled “The Reincarnation Papers” self-published in 2009 by D. Eric Maikranz, it begins with a car-chase prologue, set in 1985 Mexico City, in which a fellow we later learn is called Heinrich Treadway (Dylan O’Brien) is being chased by a couple of vehicles, one containing friends Abel and Leona (Tom Hughes and Joana Ribeiro) and the other their archenemy Bratwurst—sorry, Bathurst (Rupert Friend). It ends with a crash in which Treadway leaps out of the sports car he’s driving.
Cut to the present, when Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg) wakes bathed in sweat from that nightmarish vision. He’s off to interview for a job as a restaurant manager, but his background of violent behavior disqualifies him, and to secure the pills he needs to treat what’s been diagnosed as schizophrenia, he fashions a Japanese sword using ancient techniques and takes it to a sleazy drug dealer. But a fight breaks out and he flees in a hail of gunfire, only to be arrested and taken in for questioning.
He’s interviewed by a strange, threatening guy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who appears ready to kill him until he’s rescued by Nora Brightman (Sophie Cookson), who breaks down the building wall with her assault vehicle and spirits him away. She explains what’s going on as they flee pursuers, destroying a good part of the city thoroughfare in the process. (Massive collateral damage is always blithely ignored in movies like this.)
As she tells it, Evan isn’t schizophrenic at all; he’s one of the Infinites, humans who are repeatedly reincarnated with the memories of all their past lives within them, waiting to be fully recovered. He, in fact, is the reincarnation of Treadway, and his dream a fragment of that past life. Other oddities about him—his knowledge of languages, his skill in the lost art of samurai sword making—are also elements of his prior identities.
Nora further explains that the man who was interviewing him was the current Bathurst, the leader of the group of Infinites called Nihilists, who want to destroy all life on earth. How? By using a device called the Egg—not a piece of Fabergé finery but a mechanism that when activated will enter the DNA of every living creature and send them all up in smoke. Why does he want to do such a horrible thing? Because every time he’s reincarnated he remembers everything from all his past lives immediately and can’t stand the burden.
Nora, on the other hand, belongs to the Believers, who think it their responsibility to use their powers to assist humankind to progress. Thus there is constant conflict between the sects of Infinites.
Evan is doubtful about all this, but Nora takes him to the Hub, the Believers’ futuristic headquarters, where, under the tutelage of other Believers like Kovic (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), Garrick (Liz Carr) and Trace (Kae Alexander), he undergoes training and tests to recover all his old memories and physical skills. That’s urgent, because only he knows where Heinrich hid the Egg, and they must find it before Bathurst does. He, meanwhile, is busily searching for it, brutally interrogating Believers like Bryan Porter (Toby Jones), whom he encourages to give him information by a kind of waterboarding that replaces the water with honey (honeyboarding?). When the Hub processes prove too slow, Evan is taken to the laboratory of the Artisan (Jason Mantzoukas), a wacky hedonist Believer whose methods of memory recovery are swifter, but much more dangerous. Naturally Bathurst shows up there with his army of SWAT-style gunmen.
From this point “Infinite” devolves into a cascade of action-movie tropes deadened by explanatory flashbacks to Treadway’s life, the revelation of where the Egg is located, and a ludicrous finale in which Evan, after landing atop the wing of Bathurst’s in-flight plane on a motorcycle, burrows into the cabin of the aircraft with his trusty sword to deactivate the fatal mechanism, leading of course to a protracted hand-to-hand fight with the villain. All movies of this kind try to come up with a rip-roaring conclusion, but the one Schorr, Fuqua and their team of CGI craftsmen (supervised by Pete Bebb) have devised, in which the two men continue doing battle as they cling to some satellite-style gizmo as it hurtles to earth, all the while being bombarded by the strains of Harry Gregson-Williams’ blaring score, is more likely to induce gales of laughter than any sense of excitement.
Naturally, there’s a postscript that threatens the possibility of a sequel, or perhaps a whole slew of them—an endless parade of reincarnations, after all, leaves lots of room—along with a heavy-handed message about how important it is for each person to work to improve the world. Filmmakers could take that moral to heart: they could make things better by ceasing to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on pictures like this.
One can’t blame production designer Chris Seagers or cinematographer Mauro Fiore overmuch for the dreary mess that “Infinite” turns out to be—the futuristic sets, though hardly attractive, are okay, and the hectic camera moves try to inject some vitality. But Conrad Buff’s editing, which veers abruptly from solemnly dull to spasmodic, is a problem, sometimes encouraging boredom and sometimes nausea.
And the performances are all over the place, with the actors responding very differently to what they must have recognized as hopeless material. Wahlberg practically sleepwalks through the picture, phlegmatically tossing off the stream of unfunny wisecracks assigned to Evan as if he were bored with the whole sorry business. By contrast Ejiofor and Mantzoukas opt to go the scenery-chewing route, with results that in the end are no less boring. Everybody else pretty much plays things straight—which, given what they have to deal with, is simply deadening.
“Infinite” is a particularly pathetic example of big-budget sci-fi folderol, a woebegone attempt at a CGI-heavy action thriller that leaves egg on everyone’s face.