The straight faced action hero is the least interesting of Mark Wahlberg’s screen personas by far, but it’s also the one he tends to rely on the most. He’s capable of so much more, as we’ve seen in his Academy Award nominated performances in The Departed and The Fighter among many underrated dramatic turns, while he’s also a surprisingly accomplished comic actor to boot.
Antoine Fuqua, meanwhile, is a safe pair of hands that’s directed many successful movies and more than a few good ones, but nothing that’s ever come close to brushing greatness. The star and director previously collaborated on mindless and mediocre actioner Shooter back in 2007, and they’re back with Paramount+ exclusive Infinite, a big budget and high concept sci-fi blockbuster that’s got a unique storytelling hook and some solid set pieces, but for the most part is a relentlessly dour and sluggish exercise in tedium.
The bare bones of the plot definitely possess the potential to deliver a strikingly original globetrotting epic, but the final product feels like an undercooked and underwritten slog that echoes superior films like Inception, The Matrix, Netflix’s The Old Guard and even the Fast & Furious franchise, and Infinite doesn’t bring anything to the table that either action or sci-fi fans haven’t seen done before, and much better.
Wahlberg plays Evan McCauley, a man who’s been struggling with paranoid schizophrenia his entire life. Of course, it turns out that’s not the case, and he’s actually one of the Infinites, a rare group of people who possess the ability to retain memories of their past lives. A rival faction known as the Nihilists are out to put a stop to the notion of reincarnation because they’ve grown tired of reliving existence, all sort of vaguely tied together through a mysterious MacGuffin with the power to destroy humanity that’s literally called the Egg.
On its own that’s a decent enough pitch, and it’s all helpfully explained within the first minute of Infinite to set the stage, before we’re launched headfirst into a frenetic opening sequence featuring Dylan O’Brien’s Heinrich Treadway, who does such wild and stupid stuff as sending a brick flying through the windows of multiple successive police cars on his tail, before he skids a sports car off a bridge and jumps out to safety at the last possible second. So far, so stupid, but at least it’s entertaining and it feels as though we’re off to the races for a tongue-in-cheek and ludicrous action extravaganza.
Unfortunately, the narrative then stops dead in its tracks. As well as the opening voiceover, we get additional narration from Wahlberg telling us about his backstory. He then goes to a job interview, where the other characters regale us with even more backstory. We meet Toby Jones’ mysterious porter, who offers up yet more details and from there, McCauley crafts a samurai sword and goes to buy black market medication, where he fills in some additional gaps, before he gets arrested and meets Chiwitel Ejofor’s scenery-chewing villain Bathurst, with the thespian the only person in Infinite that seems to be in on the joke, along with Jason Mantzouskas’ eccentric Artisan.
In their first interaction, we get even more backstory that delivers mythology via an exposition dump, which is interrupted by an explosive vehicular chase, introducing Sophie Cookson’s Nora into the equation. No offense to the actress, but she’s not great in this, and all of her line readings make her sound like she’s part of an infomercial as opposed to a very expensive Hollywood production. Egregiously, she too gets in on the expository act by relaying, in exhausting detail, the ins and outs of the war between the Infinites and Nihilists.
This means that the mental health subplot is dropped almost immediately, despite it being a theoretically daring avenue to explore in such a mainstream project. McCauley simply believes everything he’s being told without the slightest hesitation, and what was set up as the single most important driving force behind his entire arc is abandoned inside the first 20 minutes and barely mentioned again.
Essentially, we’re almost an hour into the 106-minute running time before the actual story beats kick into gear, which is devoted almost entirely to dry dialogue of people telling McCauley who he is, who he’s been and what he’s supposed to be. In this instance, the fish out of water everyman is the expected archetype, but Wahlberg can’t play those types of roles. He’s a handsome dude that’s built like a brick sh*thouse and virtually incapable of showing vulnerability onscreen, so instead he just picks everything up awfully quickly and pulls that signature quizzical furrowed brow look of his as everyone explains everything that’s going on in nauseating fashion.
There’s a lot of strange editing choices made throughout Infinite, and a very brief glimpse of Rupert Friend indicates that a longer and perhaps significantly improved cut of the movie exists out there somewhere, but for the most part Fuqua’s latest is almost unforgivably bland. With almost the sole exception of the suitably impressive car chases and fight choreography, which even then devolve into CGI-enhanced familiarity towards the end of the third act, it doesn’t offer enough excitement to hold your attention during the all too regular lulls.
The final scene is clearly designed as a stinger to set up further installments in a would-be franchise, and while that may happen given that it’s a streaming exclusive and doesn’t have to worry about box office returns, the more likely scenario is that Infinite‘s only contribution to the cultural conversation will forever be its status as Paramount+’s first major exclusive release.