Synopsis – A man discovers that his hallucinations are actually visions from past lives.
My Take – While the concept of reincarnation has been hackneyed to the ground in Indian cinema over the past decades, the west still seems to be opening up to the possibility of using the fascinating idea to tell numerous stories across the board. With the endeavor finally getting the blockbuster treatment by adapting author D. Eric Maikranz‘s ‘The Reincarnationist Papers’, who self-published the book in 2009, with the goal of getting it the big screen treatment. And ended up attracting the attention of Paramount in 2017, while reuniting Mark Wahlberg and director Antoine Fuqua, following Shooter (2007).
Though the film saw its theatrical release shuffled around, like many others, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the first sign of it being a doomed project appeared when Paramount suddenly cancelled its release plans and sent it via digital route on Paramount+, despite it being the streamer’s most high-profile cinematic debut so far.
To be honest, while the film isn’t entirely his bad, as it possess a compelling concept and contains some actually entertaining set pieces, at the same time it just is impossible to overlook how its direction, performances, script and overall creative vision ranges mainly from nonsensical to downright embarrassing.
The film seems to have just yanked ideas from better sci-fi and fantasy material, especially Netflix’s 2020 very enjoyable-action romp The Old Guard, all the while buckling under the weight of its own world-building and suffering from a lack of forming its own particular identity.
Between its lead stars and the action, the film could have had plenty of elements working in its favor, but without any great aesthetics to match, it just ends up becoming a misguided franchise launching attempt from director Fuqua.
The story follows Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), who has always lived a troubled life. Diagnosed as schizophrenic with violent tendencies, Evan continues to be plagued by strange dreams and skills he can’t account for, forcing him to pop psychotropic pills all in order to mute his volatile mental episodes. That is until when one of his such episodes leaves him facing Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who informs him that Evan is an Infinite, a secret handful of humans who effectively live forever by being reborn every time they die and at a certain point in their maturing process in a new body, they remember everything from all of their past lives, including knowledge, training and emotions.
But while the Infinite have tasked themselves with protecting humanity, the Nihilists, on the other hand, have grown frustrated with their endless births. With Bathurst, their leader, especially aiming to destroy all life forms in its entirety by using a devise known as the Egg, unfortunately for him, the only person who knows its true location is Evan, as his past form, Heinrich Treadway (Dylan O’Brien) was the last person in possession of it. Forcing Evan to seek the help of fellow Infinites, Bryan (Toby Jones), Nora (Sophie Cookson), Kovic (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), Trace (Kae Alexander), and the Artisan (Jason Mantzoukas), to unlock his Treadway memories.
The setup isn’t far from The Old Guard, except that the heroes here have to switch bodies and re-endure teething every time they go down. That film was no masterpiece, but it did seem concerned with the logistics and psychological ramifications of its eons-spanning high concept. Here, the viewers are treated to quick flashes of Evan’s past lives, and the film does an excellent job of cutting between those past glimpses and the present day, lending a genuinely disorienting feel to Evan’s journey.
However, for all its data dumps, the film answers fewer questions than it raises. Is everyone reincarnated, and only the Infinites can remember their past lives? Do they remember everything, or just the bits of their backstory? It also isn’t much interested in Evan’s past beyond his last life, Treadway.
It’s a shame that screenwriter Ian Shorr opts to avoid giving more weight to the past lives, particularly since several characters are hinted at having deep histories.
Certainly, director Fuqua knows how to stage engaging set pieces, whether it’s the car chase in the opening scene or one that literally starts inside of a police station, he keeps things entertaining. But the lack of depth and the mythology keeps the audience from getting too invested in the protagonist’s task.
Though the fate of the entire world is at stake, there’s a strange lack of urgency in the proceedings. The action is thrilling, but not quite in the sense that one is worried about whether Evan and his allies will be able to keep the Egg out of Bathurst’s hands. The film instead feels like director Fuqua couldn’t dig into the material beyond its potential as an action film.
It also doesn’t help that Mark Wahlberg drags everything down with his dourness and flatness. Normally, I tend to enjoy the presence and energy Wahlberg can bring to a role, but here, he seems uninspired and brings in a bland, phoned-in, looking-for-the-craft-table performance. On the contrary, the film would have been in better hands if Dylan O’Brien, who plays the past-life version of Wahlberg’s character, would have been its top line star, especially considering how the opening sequence is the best part of the film.
While Chiwetel Ejiofor growls and rages his way through an intimidating portrayal and he manages to give the villain some additional layers of depth as well. Sadly, Sophie Cookson doesn’t have much to do here, nor do Jason Mantzoukas, Toby Jones, Liz Carr, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Kae Alexander, and Rupert Friend. On the whole, ‘Infinite’ is a muddled sci-fi actioner that lacks any form of a particular identity.
Directed – Antoine Fuqua
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 106 minutes