There’s a moment near the end of Infinite (it’s in the trailer so not really a spoiler) where Mark Wahlberg drives a motorcycle off a cliff, lands on a aeroplane mid-flight, and stops his momentum with a samurai sword. After it happened I said to myself “Well, I haven’t seen that before,” which is certainly the reaction the film wanted. But in Paramount+’s Infinite, moments like that are few and far between, which makes a film filled with potential nothing more than a fleeting piece of entertainment.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equaliser), Infinite debuts today exclusively on Paramount+. It stars Wahlberg as Evan McCauley, a man in New York City who can’t get a job because of his checkered past. That past is largely due to the fact McCauley has constant visions and dreams he can’t get out of his head. Doctors say he has schizophrenia, but eventually, he finds out that’s not the case — he’s one of a few hundred people on the planet who are reincarnated when they die and retain every memory from their past lives (of which they constantly change ethnicities, genders, etc).
These people are called Infinites and they’re divided into two groups: the Believers and the Nihilists. The Believers believe the gift of reincarnation should be used to better the world while the Nihilists do not. Wahlberg’s character doesn’t have all the information of his long history like the others but the Believers need him to remember… or the world is going to end.
Bathurst, played in this life by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is the leader of the Nihilists and has finally figured out how to stop the cycle of reincarnation with an object he created called “The Egg.” The idea is that if he’s able to kill every single thing on Earth, there’s no way he could be reincarnated again. Which is dark. In McCauley’s previous life (where he looked like Teen Wolf and Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien), he hid the Egg, so a fellow Believer named Nora (Sophie Cookson) brings him to Infinite headquarters where they try to unblock whatever is stopping him from not remembering his pasts and, most importantly, the location of the dangerous object.
That set-up and concept — based on the 2009 novel The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz — is the best thing about Infinite and throughout the film there are flashes of it being put to great use. Characters using the knowledge of their past lives to make superior weaponry. Solve complex problems. Combine multiple fighting styles. The knowledge has also pushed them ahead of modern society with some super high-tech gadgets such as a microchip bullet that extracts an Infinite’s consciousness and traps it on a hard drive.
However, for the most part, Infinite plays down those unique tangents in favour of action sequences that are surprisingly basic and familiar. So familiar, in fact, that three of them feel like carbon copies of scenes in Fast and Furious movies; one involves tunnels (like Fast and Furious), another involves a police station (Fast Five), and a third involves an off-road vehicle in the woods (Furious 7). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just works to undercut what makes Infinite cool: the history and scope of these characters.
Driving wasn’t even possible until a hundred or so years before the movie takes place and yet you choose that as your main avenue for set pieces? These people have been around for centuries. They were tribal warriors, samurai, great explorers, probably pirates, and a whole bunch of other impressive stuff too. But instead of using the film’s premise to elevate and innovate the action, we’re just left with cars weaving through streets and crashing into things. It’s well-made mayhem, but completely uninspired — for the most part.
Thankfully there are a few things that do elevate Infinite. The climactic motorcycle/aeroplane scene has more to it which makes it very memorable and almost worth the price of admission. The Good Place’s Jason Mantzoukas plays a wild party animal/doctor; it’s a vital role that allows him to be very “Jason Mantzoukas.” Cookson’s character drives a forced, but welcome, romantic subplot that doesn’t involve Wahlberg, and English actress/comedian Liz Carr (The OA, Devs) is delightful as bold, brilliant scientist (though there is some unfortunate dialogue about her disability). Ejiofor turns his villainous tendencies up to 11 and steals every scene he’s in, and though Mark Wahlberg is basically just playing Mark Wahlberg (as he’s been known to do), he seems to be having maybe 10% more fun here than usual, which helps add to his character’s journey.
Of course, the whole reincarnation idea brings with it a few problems that hold the movie back. Character development on the whole is incredibly lacking. For example, because these people look different in every single life and retain all their memories, there’s no room to really learn about them because most of their lives already happened off-screen. Two Infinites meet, figure out who they were in their last lives, and they’re already best friends or enemies. I’m sure the filmmakers realised that watching two different actors bond in a flashback while trying to remember who they are currently isn’t exactly ideal in a movie, but a little more work with the main characters either in flashback or modern times would have gone a long way. I also kept wondering who these faceless soldiers fighting for the Nihilists were. Did they know the man they were working for was just trying to kill them? Were they Nihilists themselves? If so why would they waste their gifts being disposable soldiers? Ultimately it really doesn’t matter but you get a sense of just how rich, for good and bad, this whole scenario is.
In the end, even though it fumbles a fascinating premise, I kind of liked Infinite. You’ve seen pieces of this movie before, it doesn’t go particularly deep, but it kept me interested nevertheless. Plus, if the worst things about it are it rip-offs of really great action films and a lack of strong character development, we’ve seen much worse. You certainly would have hoped for more, especially from a filmmaker with the experience and talent of Fuqua, but especially as an original movie on a streaming service, Infinite is way better than you usually get.