‘Infinite’: Antoine Fuqua & Mark Wahlberg’s Incept Themselves Into The Mountain Dew Matrix Of Third-Rate Sci-Fi [Review]

What fresh hell is this? If you loved the films of Christopher Nolan (and the Wachowskis), but perhaps only had the [almost] total recall talent of Wally Pfister (ouch, sorry) and you came across an “Inception”-esque high-concept script—reincarnation past lives, fuzzy memory, James Bond action, and slick cars—maybe you have to supercharge the idea. Maybe a fantastical sci-fi-ish conception of a world where Infinites— Believers vs. Nihilists—battle for supremacy— isn’t quite enough. Maybe you have to pour Mountain Dew or a Monster Energy Drink over the head of the creator who’s overheated from a delirious 36-hour writing jag— electrolytes soaking into the skin, dissolving into the neuro-system, speeding through the veins like am “X-Men” movie opening title sequence about X-Treme DNA— and then the movie really superconducts. Because that’s what “Infinite,” the new Paramount+ sci-fi thriller feels like: a third-rate “Inception” meets “Transcendence” guzzled by adrenaline junkie X-Game daredevils who fixed jumper cables to their can of RC Cola mixed with pop rocks or whatever. It’s also, perhaps more obviously, a bargain basement “Matrix,” shamelessly cribbing from the film’s concept with Marky Mark as the (white), initially clueless, savior character that will fix everything once he ascends to his rightful position in the prophecy.

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Director Antoine Fuqua’s fantasy thriller “Infinite” starring Wahlberg, is stupendously dumb and deeply insipid. Taking its cues from the aforementioned Nolan/Wachowski school of high-concept—extraordinary sci-fi tropes meet muscular grounded action set pieces—“Infinite” has a story and (bland) basic idea. Still, it mostly feels like a crass excuse to stitch one excessive action set piece to the next. “Infinite” also just feels insultingly anonymous, as it was wheeled out of the I.P, “potential franchise” factory, shiny, slick, and new, but utterly soulless, unoriginal, and uninspired.

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Because the “Infinite” premise is interesting in theory but lazily executed in practice. “New technology has given the Nihilists an opportunity to end all life on earth,” Wahlberg says in a painfully banal, over-explainy voiceover that spoon-feeds the audience the simplistic premise and conflict (good guys vs. bad guys, both of whom have the power to keep living on infinitely via reincarnation).“And the race is on for its control,” he concludes before, VROOM, VROOOM, VROOM, “Infinite” explodes into an epic and ridiculous car chase sequence that crescendos with Dylan O’Brien purposely whipping his shiny Maserati off a bridge, timing it so perfectly that the spin ejects him into the air, throwing him towards construction scaffolding that he can cling to with a sword while the sports car crashes in a fiery doom.

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It should be said, as ridiculous as this sequence is, it’s terrifically crafted for its sense of increasing throttle, stakes, urgency, and reckless viscera—Fuqua really knows how to craft, build and orchestrate an action sequence and one that feels very practical and in-camera with wild stunts (mostly practical anyhow). Unfortunately for him, Wahlberg and the audience, his level of cinematic sophistication ends there, and the minimal delights of such excess don’t last. That opening voice-over might be the dumbest, laziest, unimaginative monologue opening to a movie you’ve ever heard. More importantly, it sounds like Wahlberg is doped up on narcotics and has given up even pretending he’s trying, much like the movie. Wahlberg is on such auto-pilot in the movie, delivering hackneyed, trite jokes at the end of each sentence, and this opening declamation, bored and sleepy, is such a portentous preview of what’s to come (I will say “Infinite” is so ludicrous it’s enjoyable stupid at first, but that doesn’t last long).

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So “Infinite” centers on Evan McCauley (Wahlberg), a guy, we’re told, who is a diagnosed schizophrenic is, has been in and out of mental hospitals for years and once carved “look inside” on his chest with box cutters. He is haunted by past memories that don’t feel like they are his own. He also possesses unnatural skills and abilities he’s unclear how he ever learned: making an immaculately perfect Hattori Hanzō samurai sword. Long story short, he’s an Infinite and doesn’t know it yet. The convoluted premise of the film centers on trying to convince McCauley who he is, that the upending of this derealization is not a psychotic break, and unlock his past former live memories, so the cadre of virtuous Infinites can locate “the egg”— the infamous whatsit MacGuffin that’s needed to stop the end of the world. But Bathurst 2020 (a hammy, scene-chewing Chiwetel Ejiofor who I hope earned a good paycheck for this dismal gig), who believe Infinitism is a curse that he wants to end with world destruction (bleh), has other plans, mainly also trying to crack McCauley’s memories so he can find the egg first.

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Many Believers come to the aid of McCauley, trying to unscramble his brain. Mora Brightman (Sophie Cookson) is the “Matrix” Trinity figure, explicating to McCauley that this isn’t a delusion and essentially spouting expository dialogue about the Infinite rules. Other “Matrix”-like team members include Kovic (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), Trace (Kae Alexander), and eventually, the Artisan, a kooky ad-hoc doctor played by a ridiculous, eye-shadow-wearing Jason Mantzoukas (Toby Jones, Tom Hughes, Liz Carr, and Joana Ribeiro co-star). But chiefly, they just fodder for the main collision of McCauley and Bathurst, his mortal enemy from many lifetimes ago.

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“Infinite” leans heavily on “The Matrix” but never once stops to consider something deeper. Not even the adjacent (and rather pedestrian) metaphysical thoughts of reincarnation and past lives that the Wachowskis borrowed from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s entire career for “Cloud Atlas.” This would be asking too much as one often asks themselves: did a car commercial direct this? The premium placed on upmarket, glossy, muscular cars is so conspicuous that Fuqua scored buyback product placement cash. Elon Musk would surely be enamored and call it “edgy.” It’s essentially that kind of movie, “The Matrix” and Nolan-lite for dudes who check their bitcoin futures during the movie on their smartphones. Sick, bro. [D]