One good thing that can be said about Mark Wahlberg-starring, straight-to-streaming reincarnation derby “Infinite,” in which a special group of humans are fortunate/cursed enough to recall their past lives: It’s the first film from Antoine Fuqua since “Bait” to clock in under two hours. That’s no small relief — especially given the never-ending threat of its title — in a summer where supersize offerings such as “Cruella,” “F9” and “In the Heights” are long enough to warrant intermissions.
Derivative as they come, this “The Matrix”-meets-“The Old Guard” wannabe mind-blower offers such a familiar premise — basically, that one man’s neurodiversity may actually be a window into the species’ untapped potential — as to be almost banal. That doesn’t stop excess expert Fuqua from packing a fair amount of big-screen spectacle into its relatively tight running time, though probably not enough to win many converts to fledgling streamer Paramount Plus (where the film has landed after multiple setbacks to its theatrical release).
“Infinite” kicks off with a Mexico City-set action scene — one where we’re obliged to strap in before properly meeting the characters — and blazes its way (a generation later) toward a final showdown between two rival groups of hasta-la-vista souls (or “Infinites”), who’ve been waging war across the centuries (which seems a pretty sorry use of such an awesome power). In life after life, the Believers battle the Nihilists, who’ve developed something called “the Egg.” Bad guy Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is tired of being reborn, inventing a device that “attacks life at the source: DNA.” It’s a lot like the gauntlet from the “Avengers” movies, only twice as effective: Instead of turning half of all sentient beings to dust, the Egg does the whole job, leaving those looking for a way out with “nothing to reincarnate into.”
We’ll come back to how dumb this idea is, but since every movie needs stakes, I suppose we can accept the movie’s over-the-top premise that Wahlberg and his fellow Believers are the last line of defense from a Nihilist-led annihilation. Sure, these lucky souls could be writing symphonies or curing cancer, but it’s more exciting to watch Wahlberg ride a motorcycle off a cliff and land on the wing of a low-flying cargo plane — a plausibility-bending stunt not even the “Fast & Furious” franchise would dare. In any case, the stakes can’t help feeling wonky when all the main characters can count on being reborn every time they’re killed.
“Infinite” has been very loosely adapted from D. Eric Maikranz’s self-published novel “The Reincarnationist Papers,” about a secret society of people who can recall their past lives. (The writer famously incentivized his readers to help get Hollywood’s attention, offering 10% of any advance or option as reward.) Screenwriter Ian Shorr — and before that, Todd Stein, who still gets story credit — focuses on tortured soul Evan Michaels (Wahlberg), a diagnosed schizophrenic whose feelings of déjà vu are more well-founded than he realizes. Evan self-medicates to keep the visions in check, but has anger issues and strange habits, like forging artisanal katanas for local drug dealers.
The police are baffled, but not so Bathurst, who suspects that Evan may be his old adversary Heinrich Treadway in a new body. The first scene between these two is the movie’s strongest, playing off the discrepancy between what Bathurst knows and all that Evan has yet to discover about himself. After a tense tête-à-tête between the two characters, “Infinite” unleashes an explosive rescue sequence (spearheaded by could’ve-been-anyone co-star Sophie Cookson) that owes much to Christopher Nolan. Since “The Dark Knight,” walls no longer pose an obstacle to heavy-duty chase scenes, and this escape reduces a NYPD station to rubble.
Fuqua proves an effective orchestrator of creative set-pieces, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating at times (no more than Nolan, mind you). If things tend to feel rushed, that’s a pretty clear sign that the movie must have been longer, but was compressed to just the most entertaining material for release. As such, we get people like Toby Jones’ Porter who show up for a couple scenes without much explanation as to their purpose, but haven’t been cut entirely because the writers had an original idea about how to dispatch them. (In Porter’s case, he’s forced to swallow a jar full of honey, which is much more disturbing than it sounds.)
Porter also finds himself on the receiving end of Bathurst’s other weapon, the “Dethroner,” a gun capable of wiping an Infinite’s brain for good. Now, this is where the movies stops making sense: If Bathurst’s goal is to spare himself the agony of remembering all his past lives, why go to such extreme lengths to exterminate all living creatures? Surely it would be easier to swallow one of these special bullets. Not that there appears to be much cumulative advantage to being an Infinite in the first place, especially if Evan has such trouble accessing his memory (although taking his shirt off seems to help). The more you nitpick this movie, the more innumerable its plot holes appear, until the whole thing collapses in on itself.