I own several thousand movies across all genres. I’ve seen thousands more. I’m not going to sit here and lecture about “important films” because there’s a space in my library for bad movies that you can shut your brain off and simply enjoy. When I saw the trailer for the Mark Walberg / Chiwetel Ejiofor action romp Infinite I thought it’d fit right next to the movie Stealth for that purpose, if not alphabetically. Popcorn in hand, I settled in for Anton Fuqua’s bombastic body-jumping sci-fi adventure.
Of note, I normally am extra vague about the storyline of a movie as I don’t want to ruin it. Here, I’m gonna lay out the major plot points because you saw every single one of them in the trailer, and if you missed that, you’ll see the big twist in the first 15 minutes of the film – it has the depth of a teaspoon if that teaspoon was cut in half and then holes were drilled into it. The only question that remains is whether it’s any fun – read on and let’s answer that, shall we?
Adapted from D. Eric Maikranz’s 2009 novel, The Reincarnationist Papers (screenplay by Ian Shorr, story by Todd Stein), the story of Infinite revolves around reincarnation. The film kicks off in 1985, with a man named Heinrich Treadway racing away from the police and a man named Bathurst (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) chasing after him to recover something called “The Egg”. Invoking immediate thoughts of movies / graphic novels like Wanted, we see Heinrich pull off some insane superhuman stunts while he tells his partner to “look inside” in case he fails to escape. We then see him cauterize a wound on his side before he spins off a crane and his inevitable death.
Far fetched and obvious so far, we now jump to the year 2020 where we meet a schizophrenic man named Evan McCauley, played by Mark Walberg. Controlling his schizophrenia with meds, he loses out on another job opportunity because he was institutionalized – something no employer would legally be allowed to a.) ask about or b.) discriminate against. Evan then reinforces why they shouldn’t hire him with some harsh words and we are back to his house where he forges weapons to relax. He somehow remembers how to create 70-times-folded Japanese blades (despite the fact that this many folds would render the steel impossible to harden, but I digress), complete with cast tsuba and seppa, and a fully wrapped tsuka in traditional Japanese Ito style. Topping it with a sageo, he sells it to someone who can only be described as a more tattooed stunt double for Ninja from Die Antwoord. Naturally he’s a jealous asshat with zero self control, so Evan jumps in to defend Discount-Ninja’s girlfriend from being de-limbed. He then proceeds to maim nearly everyone in the room, takes the pills as payment, steals the sword, and we forget about these one-and-done characters for the rest of the movie.
You can’t go cutting off Dollar Store hoodlum limbs without consequences, so Evan is arrested and comes face to face with Bathurst in a police interrogation room that is equal parts anechoic chamber / steel murder room from a Saw film. All normal so far. As the wall explodes and Evan is rescued by a mysterious woman named Nora Brightman (played by Sophie Cookson) we get the full exposition dump to make any of this make sense. Brace yourself.
The real story behind the story is that the Egg is a mysterious power that can be used to end all life on the planet. Why would you want to do that? Well, it turns out that Evan, Nora, Bathurst, and about 500 others are part of a super secretive group called Infinites (you can tell they are super secret as every surface is embroidered, neon-soaked, or otherwise bedazzled with a giant infinity symbol, yes that includes the buildings) that are split into two factions – The Believers and the Nihilists. The Believers think that they need to use the memory of every past life as a way to better mankind, and that this power is granted by an unnamed higher power. The Nihilists believe this reincarnation ability is a curse, and they are extra mad about it because they’ll kill every living thing on the planet just so they don’t have to see the end of days. The Egg will allow the destruction of all living things at the DNA level, so now the race is on to figure out where it was stashed by the 1985 version of Treadway. Is it still a twist when it’s this obvious?
Moving on from the story, we need to talk about the characters that bring it to life. About half way through the film somebody thought it needed more comedy, so they brought in Jason Mantzoukas. Mantzoukas is good at what he does, but what he does is exactly the same in every movie, so you know precisely what you are getting here. It’s a miscast if I’ve ever seen one as it grabs the attempting-to-be-serious sci-fi plot and shakes it like a dog toy until there’s nothing left.
I don’t know what lives Bathurst has lived prior, and the movie has established that you can literally be anyone from anywhere, but it’s clear he’s had many, many accents. Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (easily one of my favorite actors) mixes them into a concoction that is as distracting as it is bizarre. It breaks the immersion of the film as what’s being said quickly gives way to the absurdity of how it’s being said.
What’s bizarre, especially in the face of performances like The Happening and latter Transformers movies, is that Mark Walberg’s acting isn’t the low point here. Sure, you’ll get whiplash as he vacillates between “This is entirely crazy and unbelievable and I can’t possibly know what to do!” to “Sure, I’ll get in the plane and fly off with you, lady I just met” without blinking an eye multiple times during the film, but his delivery of the slipshod and rushed writing is actually somewhat bland. He spends most of his time looking blankly at the scene instead of chewing it. Maybe that’s better, or at least mostly inoffensive compared to his contemporaries in this film.
I absolutely loved the criminally underused Sophie Cookson in the Kingman films, and it was great to see her here. Acting as a well-trained superspy / exposition delivery vehicle / kinda-love-interest-but-not, her delivery of the nonsense-dialogue is actually believable. Or at least she acts like she believes it enough to bring us along. What isn’t believable are some of the stunts she executes. Her martial skills have gotten significantly better, and it shows, but the writers did her a disservice in that “damage only hurts when it’s plot convenient”. I’ve done asp training (the steel collapsible police baton) and I assure you that taking one to the knee is the end of your day – you won’t be flipping, running, and otherwise pulling your best Matrix moves. Seeing Mark’s character deflect bullets with his sword was frankly more believable than that, but I’m just picking the nits at this point.
Speaking of bullets – another chief point in the master plan to take down the Believers is a special bullet that can be shot into their head that somehow captures their essence into the bullet where they can be stored and their reincarnation prevented. Sure, Bathurst could have done that to himself at any time and saved everyone the trouble, but he’s committed to his selfish plan, so we’ll leave it at that. As such we are introduced to a whole bevy of side characters on both sides to help push this brick through the air. I honestly cannot tell you the name of a single one of them – they matter so little to the story that their inclusion does nothing but add to the movie’s 1:46 runtime. During one sequence we see what’s supposed to be an anticipated fight between short hair blond lady in the black bodysuit and Cookson’s character (seriously, I was scrolling up to copy that from above as I’ve forgotten her name too, but I think you get the point) and I can’t tell you bodysuit lady’s name or motivation. It just…is.
I think I’ve belabored my point that Infinite is, by all measures a terribly written movie, but it’s not all doom and gloom. This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Paramount clearly spent some serious money on the special effects and sound here, and it shows. Effects are expertly framed and colored, with only a few moments that stuck out. Car chases are tight and engaging, and the hand-to-hand (minus the characters taking bars of steel to major joints, or taking a massive chunk of steel into the guts and then being fine 5 minutes later sort of nonsense) is well choreographed. Even watching Marky Mark swing a sword around came across well – the choreography is that good. There’s one particular scene with a motorcycle and a helicopter that is just too nuts to even describe, so know that there’s a lot to like in the effects department.
Aiding that effort is a transfer that looks magnificent in 4K. Delivered in a 2:39:1 aspect ratio (2160p HEVC/H.265 and anamorphic widescreen – the widest aspect you’ll see in theaters), the film delivers clarity and detail that we’ve come to expect from films shot for 4K instead of converted there. As such, the scenes look perfect, especially in low light scenes where the black levels are frankly a showcase of Fuqua’s skills. Similarly, tones are even and color corrected with natural hues and proper flesh tones. This is especially important for lighting darker-complected actors and people of color, and Fuqua’s color team nails that as well.
Bringing the movie to life is a full English Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 that’ll rattle your windows with its lows, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 consolation prize for those listening in French or Spanish. Frequent Fuqua movie composer Harry Gregson-Williams gives us a great soundtrack to back the action scenes, and the encoding here brings it home. Thankfully none of that is lost when it comes to delivery of the dialogue, such as it is. The center channel is very clear, so points to Paramount for ensuring consistency in center channel mixing even if what’s on offer is rarely worth hearing.
There are four bonus features on the disc, each focused on a different aspect of the film. They Call Themselves Infinites dives into the concept of reincarnation, and then goes over the concept of character development, set design, and creative direction (8 mins). The next one is The Kinetic Action of Infinite, and is frankly the best of what’s included. It’s a behind the scenes look at the stunts, tech, vehicles, and set dressing that brings the fantastic action to life. If you skip the rest, watch this one (9 mins). Anatomy of a Scene is similar to the Kinetic Action bonus, but focuses on two specific scenes – the bizarro-world Police Station I mentioned above, and the Forest. These two scenes are some of the primary tentpoles of the film, so it’s interesting to see them come to life (13 mins). The final bonus, entitled Infinite Time, is focused on the effects as well as the fight sequences in the film (5 mins). Honestly, I liked these, though it’s hard to believe the actors when they talk about character development when it’s attached to this film.
To answer the central question on whether or not Infinite is fun, yes – it’s fun, but in a Rifftrax-fodder sort of way. It’s a movie that starts off great, throws enough sci-fi jargon at us to make us believe, and then steps on progressively larger landmines until you can’t re-engage with the plot. The movie hand waves off superpowers with “past lives” and generally just bends the laws of physics to the point of exceeding videogame levels. I could tolerate it with movies like The Matrix and Wanted as they had their premise and stuck with it.
What starts off as an interesting premise quickly sails past unbelievable and straight into downright dumb. A rare misstep for Fuqua, or perhaps a need for better writers, this one is tough to recommend even if you have really, REALLY good popcorn.