Whatever broad horizons are implied in the title of Infinite — the new Mark Wahlberg movie, adapted from D. Eric Maikranz’s novel The Reincarnationist Papers (2009) — the actual movie is a severely limited, undercooked affair. Its the story harkens to a familiar strain of superhuman origin tale: a man learns, out of the blue, that the odd dreams that have plagued him since he was a child — visions so overwhelming he’d be diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age — are indicators, not of illness, but of a powerful inner strength. And yadda yadda: there are others of his ilk, some good (the Believers), others not (the Nihilists), with the latter propelled into villainy by a stern belief that being unable to die, and instead hopping from one mortal coil to the next in perpetuity, is bad, actually.
If not for the fact that the Nihilists’ solution to this problem involves exterminating all those mortal coils — just, ending it all, for everyone, forever — they’d have a solid point. Just look at Evan McCauley (Wahlberg), doomed to a life of precarity: picked and prodded at for years and accordingly drug-dependent, haunted by dreams (if that’s what they really are), unemployable despite being annoyingly smart, and so on. It’s no spoiler to say that, one day, that all changes. McCauley meets the right people at the right time, who set him on the right path, and suddenly, he’s the most important guy in the universe.
A fair enough setup, more than enough for director Antoine Fuqua to have a little fun. But Infinite — from the goofy miscalculations of its script, to its lightning-leaps over every question or nook of the story that risks make the world of this movie interesting — flattens a high-stakes battle of good and evil into airless action of little consequence peopled by characters that amount to even less, with so much info-dumping crowding the script that the dialogue starts to sound like the desperate gurglings of a clogged toilet after awhile. Even the intervention of Chiwotel Ejiofor, as villain Ted Murray, doesn’t quite help. Ejiofor — so often the nobly stoic hero, often made to appear more boring than he is, by a long shot — clearly wants to have fun, do the villain thing, exterminate the planet, and so on. Yet this talented actor shows up fit to chew scenes made of rubber; he can’t get a bite in; it’s all histrionic gnawing, snarls, confusion.
There are some questions of interest at the heart of Infinite. The idea, for example, that the Infinites are beings for whom bodies are mere hosts, disposable and forgettable, hardly a throughway into “who” they are, because who they are is a sum of everyone they’ve ever been — every skill they’ve learned, every beef they’ve earned. The eternal fight lingering beyond the margins of what the movie depicts is more interesting than the movie itself — and all the more so for the how, for the reason these Infinites even exist, wisely remaining a question mark. That part turns out not to be so crucial. What’s crucial is the fight to beat the Nihilists’ ass. A better movie would have played a finer hand at the requisite ass-beating.
But when someone gets stabbed in the chest — who cares? When Wahlberg is gripping the back of a plane with a sword of his own making — in a past life, he was a master craftsman — even the pleasurable echoes of Tom Cruise straddling a bullet train wear off as quickly as it takes the seeming reference to land. Infinite shuffles its hero from plot point to plot point, from character to character (and there are many, including turns from Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Liz Carr, Dylan O’Brien), going through the motions of self-discovery, memory-recovery, and on and on. And what get left on the cutting room floor are all the true curiosities. Those Infinites trapped in USB drive limbo, for example. The finer details of those legacies-long relationships to which the film keeps gesturing, too. The juicier details of Evan’s past lives, which are ironic, in part, for being populated by true warriors, largely reduced to flits of gold-tinged memory of more talented people fighting the good fight.
Maybe the most notable thing about the movie is Wahlberg himself, who hypes up that hapless “Who, me? Aw, shucks” vibe that works so well for him in comedies but utterly fails him here. What’s with this Evan guy, anyway? It’s as if the soul of his true warrior self managed to land in the bodies of actual heroes, people with skills to pass on to their next iteration, only to land in the body of a guy who doesn’t seem to have much to offer — anyone. That’s kind of funny, actually. And in that context, Wahlberg’s performance works. But that’s not quite this movie; Infinite, as brought to screen by Fuqua & Co., lacks the self-awareness to it’d take to even know it should be more self-aware. The movie wraps up with something like a speech from a coach: Wahlberg, in the voiceover that basically dooms the movie from its very opening scene, laying it all out for us, spinning this meager heroic tale into a limp bit of hero myth. “Death isn’t the end,” he says. Maybe not. But even the Infinites cannot survive the end of a movie. Thank God for movies.