In 2009, author D. Eric Maikranz self-published his book, The Reincarnationist Papers, with a message inside, a “request for help,” offering an agent’s commission (roughly $10K) if someone in his readerships could help get the book noticed by a Hollywood executive in order to have the book adapted to film. Come Thanksgiving 2010, Maikranz heard from Rafi Crohn, an assistant to a Hollywood director, expressing interest in adapting the story and, after seven years, The Reincarnationist Papers became Infinite, an action thriller featuring Mark Wahlberg (Shooter) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity) directed by Antoine Fuqua (Shooter), slated for theatrical release in 2020. Given the obvious hurdle studios and theaters faced amid the various lockdowns, Infinite was pushed to September 2021 until a decision came down to shift the film from theaters straight to your living room by way of Viacom’s premier streaming Paramount+. When all is said and done, Infinite is a prime summer blockbuster whose mindlessness and similarities to other science fiction thrillers don’t prevent it from being dull or from galvanizing audiences for a follow-up.
Whether awake or asleep, Evan McCauley (Wahlberg) has visions of other places and times that are so real that he loses any anchor in reality. He finds himself being able to do things he shouldn’t be able to do or know things he shouldn’t know, and it’s been like this, all of this, for his entire life. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Evan does what he can to live a relatively happy and fulfilling life, trying to stamp down the visions that come to him day or night. Except Evan’s reality isn’t warped due to mental illness, but an unknown force that’s caused him to reincarnate each time he dies, bringing the memories of those previous lives with each new incarnation. Even more than that, there’s a silent war going on between two factions — Believers and Nihilists — of so-called “Infinites,” that threatens to end everything. Can Evan remember who he was in time or does infinity end with him?
First and foremost, having not read Maikranz’s original story, this reviewer will include no comparing or contrasting of the two iterations, but it’s obvious from the summary of one versus the other that many changes were made. Many. Whether that’s a deterrent or not is up to the individual viewer, but that’s about all I can speak to on that matter.
What can be spoken of is how heavily this film borrows from the visual and conceptual stylings of prior works. I’m not in any way suggesting that screenplay writer Ian Shorr (Office Uprising) and screen story writer Todd Stein (2:22) absconded with someone else’s ideas, it’s that you can see the influences from stories like Wanted (2008), The Matrix (1999), Total Recall (1990), and the John Wick universe in a variety of ways. The questioning of Evan’s grip on reality is a central component of Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Recall, something which Infinite brings up and discards, demonstrating less of an interest in mining the more intellectual or philosophical elements inherent in Maikranz’s concept, and more of an interest in using reincarnation in order to get into the action. Using a central figure who thinks his life is one shit show after another who is actually the savior a secret group of superhero/supervillain-like individuals are seeking is right up the alley of Wanted and The Matrix, especially with the training/remembrance pieces. Then, of course, there’s the super-sleek, high tech gadgetry + individuals with emblematic names like Artisan, Trace, and Abel, which would just as easily be at home in any John Wick film. Thankfully, even as the film seems determined to pull from a variety of sources to cobble together its primary narrative, it offers enough interesting bits via performance (Jason Mantzoukas’s Artisan and Ejiofor’s Bathurst are the scene-stealing MVPs, but who’s surprised?) and concept staging that while you’re never on the edge of your seat, you’re not checking the time either. There’s nothing wrong with this. At all. Wahlberg has proven himself to be a strong leading man for action (Shooter) and is great in dramatic supporting roles (The Departed), and you’ll get everything you expect from him here. Same with Fuqua, who always manages to land huge stars and convinces them to do insane things for our entertainment. To the credit of Fuqua, Infinite is the first film I’ve seen at home in 2021 that truly felt like it should’ve been experienced in theaters. Others have been fun and wild (Godzilla vs. Kong), but there’s something about the scope of the action sequences that my 43in 4K television just couldn’t capture as well.
One thing that truly impresses about Infinite is how multicultural, global, and mostly inclusive it feels despite the very American Wahlberg up front. It’s not that the cast is multinational, but the ideas which propel it. Infinites come to see their bodies as nothing but temporary vessels for the soul. This is a religious and philosophical concept that’s appeared in a variety of cultures throughout the human experience. As such, for a character to die only means a delay until they see each other again. None of the Infinites care what the vessel looks like — though gender is suggested to be locked — enabling the narrative to introduce actors from around the world without being confined to one country. Though Wahlberg’s Evan is presented, at length, as Caucasian in two consecutive lifetimes, he hasn’t always been that way. This is *incredibly* refreshing, especially as notions of The One are hinted at via the dyad of Wahlberg’s Evan and Ejiofor’s Bathurst, which immediately suggests a White vs. Black in the Good vs. Evil socioconstruct, but, thankfully, the narrative doesn’t require them to always be of one ethnicity or another. This doesn’t excuse some of the more familiar elements of the narrative so much as it unmoors any future installments from adhering to typical tropes. Will there *be* any future stories? No clue. But Shorr does leave the possibilities open in a truly delightful way.
Entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes. Though I found myself more interested in the opening storyline (action and narrative) featuring actor Dylan O’Brien (Love and Monsters) as Evan’s previous incarnation than in the story we get, the interweaving of the two narratives comes together in a satisfying way that you’ll ultimately forgive the narrative focus. Even the little things, like an overreliance on voice-over or slomo, implying a need to get to the action quickly and then dazzle with that as long as possible over a compelling story, bother, but not enough where you feel like you wasted your time. The Cine-Men co-host Darryl Mansel describes the summer blockbuster season as his favorite time of the cinematic year for offering a place to get away from the heat and reality for a little while. He likes big action, sexy people, and ridiculous premises. If you feel like Darryl, you’re going to come away feeling Infinite-ly satisfied.
Available to stream on Paramount+ June 10th, 2021.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.