Indulge, if you will, some temporal tidbits about Infinite, a film consumed with the long arm of time’s effect on secret societies and chosen ones.
It’s the first science-fiction foray during the near quarter-century career of journeyman action filmmaker Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer 2). Unsurprisingly, Infinite swipes a bit of everything effective from similar such endeavors released since 1998 — The Matrix here, Wanted there, Assassin’s Creed and The Old Guard everywhere (especially with the presence of Guard co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor here as the heel). But Infinite also feels like a project completed in 2006 and forgotten about until several days ago; in fact, Paramount scuttled its intended September theatrical release just weeks ahead of its premiere today on its Paramount+ streaming service.
Then there’s a confrontation between Ejiofor and Toby Jones, a pair of Brits behaving madly as respective leaders of the Nihilists and the Believers. But more on that in a little while.
You could probably use context clues to suss out the ideologies of these aforementioned factions of the Infinites, who are people gifted with all their past lives’ memories and skills as they’re reincarnated throughout the centuries. But why roll that dice when voiceover narration can help you out?
The Believers want to leave Earth better than they found it. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, how good would you be after a million hours? Suck on that, Malcolm Gladwell. Meanwhile, the Nihilists are tired of slipping their souls inside new meat sacks every few decades. So they’ve built the Egg, a bit of Thanos-snappish technology that can turn everyone in the world to dust. No more babies … ever! However, the Believers have successfully squirreled away the Egg for a few centuries, at least until its whereabouts become unknown during a hellzapoppin car-chase prologue where Fuqua enters Michael Bay’s sandbox without abandoning his own distinct fluidity and finesse.
On whose shoulders does humanity’s survival rest now? Why, the broad ones of Mark Wahlberg, of course! Wahlberg theoretically plays Evan McCauley, a man whose lifelong schizophrenia is actually a manifestation of the past lives of an Infinite named Heinrich Treadway yearning to break free and help the Believers find the Egg. But Infinite mostly just finds Wahlberg being Wahlberg in who-cares-whatever mode. That’s not a demerit. Better Infinite’s quotidian who-me beef-a-roni hero than the dreadful Mile 22 or last year’s dreary Spenser Confidential, where Wahlberg exhibited all the buoyancy of a cement-shoed corpse at the bottom of Boston Harbor.
We meet Evan at his third — yes, third — interview to be a maître d’ at a swanky restaurant, seemingly scheduled only so the snotty restaurateur can shove Evan’s tortured past in his face and send him home without a job. “Shit,” as Evan informs us in yet more voiceover, “is getting real,” and he must pay for his medication.
You’d think someone with a side hustle as a “hipster blacksmith” — able to forge swords with craftsmanship details unseen since the Edo period of Japan — need not worry about money. But Evan only gets paid in the pills he needs to keep his mental demons at bay.
When Evan was 14, he carved the words “Look Inside” into his chest. Not many actors play someone who carves words into their own flesh during a fit of psychotic pique. Wahlberg has now done it twice. After a lifetime in and out of institutional care, Evan wants to have a quiet, normal life … where he can rattle off gunpowder’s chemical composition and the proper capital (and pronunciation) of Burkina Faso without getting shit for it. (A million hours, remember!)
But when you’re as skilled at making swords as Evan, you will inevitably run afoul of bad people. Chased by criminals after he’s forced to slice off some of their fingers, Evan is overcome by an overwhelming memory — and some very Enigma-esque music — at the edge of a getaway jump. He passes out and winds up in the custody of Ejiofor’s evil Nihilist leader Bathurst, who interrogates Evan about whether he remembers his past lives in that pained, wheezy Forest Whitaker cadence. Quite frankly, more movies should feature Mark Wahlberg earnestly screaming “No! I don’t remember the French Revolution!” at people.
Just as Bathurst is about to violently force reincarnation on Evan, the Believers burst through the wall to break him out — driving a fancy Aston Martin with a steering wheel that switches to the passenger side as needed. Blink and you’ll miss the license plate that reads RENCRN8.
“Did you ever have a dream so real it felt like a memory? Did you ever look in the mirror and expect to see someone else? Are there just things you know how to do? What if the craziest thing you’ve ever heard is the first thing that’s ever made any goddamn sense?” With questions like that, it sounds like Wahlberg is about to hawk some Alex Jones-style supplements, doesn’t it? Wahlberg is definitely angling to close a deal here. But he’s only selling you how smoothly something like Infinite can go down if you surrender to its deeply, incessantly goofy pleasures.
Indeed, there’s no pleasure goofier than the aforementioned confrontation between Bathurst and the noble Kent (Toby Jones), who leads the Believers. Bathurst sucks artisanal honey from his fingers and performs a sing-songy head bob before suffocating Kent with the rest of his seemingly expensive sugar spread to learn Evan’s whereabouts.
“People are a walking, talking obituary on the back page of a dying newspaper at the bottom of a birdcage in a whore’s apartment!” Bathurst screams. Jeez, man. Remember when Agent Smith just thought humans smelled bad? Meanwhile, Kent hacks up the honey so he can shout “Faith! Faith!” back at Bathurst, all while sweet, costly honey drips from his mouth.
These are classically trained actors, and it’s sublime. But to get back to matters of millennia at hand and also paraphrase Gotti (d. Connolly, 2018): You’ll never see another scene like that if you live to be 5,000.
You might presume you know all of Infinite’s wacky gems by now. Reader, this is at most the first 25 minutes. As one character says: “Don’t worry. All this shit? It just gets weirder.”
Although eminently and effectively silly, Ian Shorr’s script also casually suggests there’s nothing impermeable about the identities you can assume throughout your life. One character openly resents another’s assumption of the gender assigned to them in conversation. By casting actress and disability rights advocate Liz Carr as the Believers’ historian — and also letting her do just a little more than expository hand-holding — Infinite suggests physical imperfection is purely in the eye of the beholder. After all, as the movie tells us, bodies are just shells.
It’s perhaps too charitable to call anything in Infinite smart, but it also has intriguing ideas about the lineage and legacy of action-cinema heroism. Just when you wonder if Evan’s “supernatural super-warrior” powers will ever exceed garden-variety punching and kicking, the climax becomes a hoot-and-a-half. (Just don’t watch any trailers.) Infinite gives Wahlberg plenty to do without worrying about massaging his ego to establish yet another franchise that’s almost assuredly not happening. (If this does become a streaming series on Paramount+, the film sets that up just fine, too.)
As Evan says — yes, still in voiceover narration — every day is a chance to take actions that add up to something bigger than yourself. The same could be said for the cumulative kick that Infinite offers relative to any of its individual components being all that inspired.