June 14, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘Infinite’ review: Mark Wahlberg stars in silly, junky sci-fi

The silly, junky science-fiction thriller “Infinite” posits a universe where reincarnation is real and a few human souls have the ability to retain memories from their past lives. I wish I could leave it at that, but at the risk of too precisely replicating the leaden rhythms of the movie’s ceaseless voiceover, I must continue. These memory-retaining “infinites,” as they’re called, fall into two groups. First there are the nihilists, who think the whole damn system is rotten and want to destroy life as we know it. And then there are the believers, guardians of eternity who consider their knowledge a precious gift to be used for the betterment of humanity.

My own act of humanitarian service this week will be to advise you against watching “Infinite,” a directive that would appear to have the tacit endorsement of the movie’s own distributor. Once scheduled for theatrical release last August before COVID-19 delays set in, the movie arrives this week on the streaming service Paramount+, where it will patiently await its future reincarnation as an in-flight movie or a blip in a Mark Wahlberg career-highlights reel. Wahlberg plays Evan McCauley, a troubled dude with a violent past and a schizophrenia diagnosis. But those strange voices and hallucinatory visions aren’t signs of mental illness; they’re vestiges of the many bodies through which his soul has passed over the centuries, which explains his ability to speak Russian and forge ancient Japanese swords.

“Explains” is the operative word in Ian Shorr’s busy info dump of a script, adapted from D. Eric Maikranz’s novel “The Reincarnationist Papers.” Sharing most of the expository duties here are a lip-smacking villain, Bathurst (a wildly over-committed Chiwetel Ejiofor), who tries to jog Evan’s befogged memory, and a well-meaning young believer, Nora (Sophie Cookson), who tries to do the same. After all, Evan may or may not be the latest vessel for a mysterious, messianic figure known as Treadway (played in an earlier incarnation by Dylan O’Brien), whose actions could determine (yawn) the fate of humanity.

Mark Wahlberg and Sophie Cookson in the movie “Infinite.”

(Peter Mountain)

The director, Antoine Fuqua, makes slam-bang action movies that occasionally rise above the workmanlike, usually when Denzel Washington is involved (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”). He and Wahlberg made a proficient enough team years ago in the muscular conspiracy thriller “Shooter”; their reunion was not worth the wait. Much frenzied violence ensues, some of it dispensed in cross-cutting training montages designed to reawaken Evan/Treadway/Whoever’s latent gifts, and some of it in explosive set-pieces that feature remarkable new innovations in vehicular penetration. (If the sight of O’Brien smashing two dashboards with one brick doesn’t thrill you, the sight of Wahlberg using his sword to stab a jet plane in mid-air might do the trick.)

Little else about “Infinite” registers as particularly novel — or, despite some attention-grabbing turns from Toby Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Liz Carr and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, interesting. Wahlberg, who usually has a way with a cynical wisecrack, seems to sprain muscles trying to sell his character’s attempts at light-witted banter. The script doesn’t reincarnate so much as it recycles, drawing freely on the nested realities of “Inception,” the free-your-mind metaphysics of “The Matrix” and the amnesiac-assassin revelations of the Jason Bourne movies. Maybe watch one of those tonight instead. “Infinite” may last a finite 106 minutes, but transmigration of souls or no transmigration of souls, life is too short.

‘Infinite’

Rated: PG-13, for sequences of strong violence, some bloody images, strong language and brief drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Playing: Available June 10 on Paramount+