Infinite


Mark Wahlberg threatens to get all samurai on your ass.

(2021) Science Fiction (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Liz Carr, Kae Alexander, Tom Hughes, Joana Ribeiro, Wallis Day, Alicia Charles, Mark Fleischmann, Lloyd Griffith, Jack Roth, Leon Annor, Nabil Elouahabi, Jumayn Hunter, Melissa Neal. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

The movie industry has for a very long time now been franchise-oriented. That’s the bread and butter of the major studios; that’s where they sink the bulk of their investments. The negative aspect is that franchises often can be overly repetitive, and so the need to add new, fresh franchises becomes paramount (no pun intended). The problem with that is that franchises rely on a first film that not only sets the stage for future films, but kicks butt at the box office or ratings.

The makers of Infinite (based on a novel by D. Eric Maikranz) were dealt bad cards from the beginning. The pandemic took what was envisioned to be a summer blockbuster and left it to debut on the Paramount Plus network, which was at the time freshly re-christened from CBS All-Access and had yet to make Netflix-like subscriber numbers (it still hasn’t). I think they were hoping to use the film as an enticement to get subscribers, but it didn’t really happen in the kind of numbers I think they were hoping for. Part of the problem is because not many knew much about the film.

The film (and book) posits that there are a group of people who are reincarnated retaining all the knowledge and skills from their past lives; these are called Infinites. The Infinites are at war; the bad guys, the Nihilists led by Bathurst (Ejiofor) want nothing more than to die and be at peace. Since dying only means they’ll get reincarnated once again, the only way to ensure that they’ll Rest in Peace is to wipe out all life on Earth, which seems a little extreme. Opposing them are the Believers who are led by Garrick (Carr), a wheelchair-bound strategist.

The Nihilists had developed a device called the Egg that would destroy all life on Earth, which seems to be redundant since the McRib is capable of doing the very same thing. An agent of the Believers named Treadway (O’Brien) has managed to steal the Egg and hide it away, but he is killed before he can reveal the location to his fellow Believers.

Years later, Evan (Wahlberg) has been diagnosed with schizophrenia due to the voices he hears. He often has vivid dreams that when he wakes up, leave him with a skill he didn’t know he had – like forging samurai swords, for example. The Believers think he might be the reincarnation of Treadway; so, unfortunately, does Bathurst (Treadway and Bathurst sounds like it should be the name of a legal firm that represents corporate polluters), and both want Evan very badly because locked in his memory is the location of the Egg One of the Believers, Nora (Cookson), has a very personal connection to Evan; she believes that the Egg can restore Treadway, who was her lover.

The movie reunites Wahlberg and Fuqua, who was his director on The Shooter. Fuqua has helmed some very good films, including Training Day. This, sadly, won’t be remembered as one of his best. While the original concept is pretty compelling, the execution here is faulty, largely because of the convoluted plot and minimal character development. Like many action films that have many working parts, the characters here are given short shrift, often reduced to a single personality trait (one has a bad temper, one is confined to a wheelchair, one is a smart alec and so on and so forth).

I get the sense that much of the backstory was left for future installments and indeed there is a lot of world building going on here. I would have preferred a smaller team with fewer characters, but better developed ones. There is a lot of CGI as you might expect – for the most part it is better than average, although there are a few exceptions. The fight scenes and action set pieces are uneven; some are absolutely mind-blowing, while others are merely okay.

Wahlberg, at fifty, is a bit long in the tooth to be starting a potential franchise like this, but then again that would leave the door open for a surprise death and reincarnation, much like Doctor Who. He is in spectacular shape (and gets shirtless to let us know just how spectacular that is) and I like his casting here; he is very much a working class Joe and reacts to things as a working class Joe.

This is a movie that got a lot of bad breaks. The pandemic led to multiple delays which eventually led to it not getting a shot at a theatrical release. It became a tentpole release for the fledgling Paramount Plus network, but didn’t generate the kind of response that got people enthusiastic about subscribing, nor is there any enthusiasm for a potential sequel. It’s just another would-be franchise film that didn’t connect with a wide audience.

REASONS TO SEE: Better-than-average SFX and action sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: Really pushes believability in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence (occasionally bloody and disturbing) and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Evan gets the same reincarnation test that is given the Dalai Llama.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Paramount Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 01/01/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 16% positive reviews; Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Old Guard
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Off the Rails

Kill Bill: Vol. 2


Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Uma Thurman is astonished to find a white-haired Chinese master growing out of the end of her stick.

(2004) Action (Miramax) Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Bo Svenson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sid Haig, Perla Haney-Jardine, Caitlin Keats, Jeannie Epper, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Stephanie L. Moore, Shana Stein. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

The first Kill Bill was an action-heavy revenge flick that sent the Bride (Thurman) after her fellow members of an elite assassination squad who had participated in murdering her groom at the altar, massacring everyone in attendance at the wedding and leaving her for dead. She is working her way up to Bill (Carradine), the leader of the squad and her former lover.

First she’s going after Budd (Madsen), aka Sidewinder, Bill’s brother and a member of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad. However, after the demises of the various members in the first film, Budd is waiting for her with a double barreled shotgun packed with rock salt. The force of the blast knocks out the Bride, whom Budd proceeds to bury alive. He offers to sell the Hattori Hanzo sword she had made in the first film to Elle Driver (Hannah) aka California Mountain Snake for a million bucks. However, Elle double crosses him and leads a deadly Black Mamba viper in the satchel with the cash, which bites Budd and finishes him off.

However, the Bride during her training with Pai Mei (G. Liu) – told in flashbacks – learned how to break wooden planks with her bare hands from short distances away (most martial artists use the full extension of their arms to break boards) and she does so, allowing her to break the planks and claw through the dirt to freedom.

More than a little hacked off she returns to the double wide where Budd shot her and finds him dead there with Elle still there gathering up her cash and the sword. The Bride gets in an epic battle with the one-eyed Elle and eventually beats her, plucking out her remaining eye and leaving her for the Mamba which is loose in the trailer.

Now it is time for her to take on her nemesis, her former lover and former employer. When she finally meets up with Bill, things won’t go as expected; she’ll be forced to confront some truths about herself and about her life and make peace with who she is before she can Kill Bill.

If anything, this is even better than the first film which was a non-stop action funfest that paid homage to nearly every genre of modern grindhouse movie imaginable, from samurai films, wu shu epics,  blaxploitation to anime. This one has a few more homages but to be honest, this is where the meat and potatoes of the storytelling lies. It is here where you get the emotional payoff that the first movie was leading up to.

Thurman is less robotic here and while she isn’t the most expressive actress ever, this is one of her better performances. Carradine, the “Kung Fu” veteran who had largely been forgotten in the 90s showing up in cameo appearances in cheesy exploitation films, gives the performance of his career here. Mainly an off-screen presence in the first film, he shows both the tender and murderous sides of his character, and demonstrates the cunning that  a hunter of human beings would have. The conversation between him and his former lover that makes up most of the end of the film is really one of the most compelling confrontations in cinematic history – and there really isn’t a whole lot of action going for it, but what action there is pays off big time.

The two films do stand alone pretty well individually, but really to get the maximum effectiveness from Vol. 2 you have to at least have some knowledge from Vol. 1. Those who haven’t seen the first film at all may be a little bit lost throughout the film and certainly the emotional wallop of the last scenes won’t be as intense.

Although Tarantino has gone on to direct some amazing films both before this and after it, to my way of thinking this remains his magnum opus and maybe the masterpiece that will always define his career. What distinguishes him here is that while he has always been a fan of movies first and foremost, he never loses sight of the power of good storytelling. In other words, he doesn’t just mimic a few genres for film geek cred; he understands what makes those genres work and links them together with a story of epic grandeur, one that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that a woman wronged is nobody you want to mess with.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the most amazing action films of all time. Carradine gives a career-reviving performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You really need to at least be familiar with Vol. 1 in order to appreciate this.

FAMILY VALUES:  As with the first volume, there is a whole lot of violence and a whole lot of bad language; there’s also a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The two volumes were always meant to be seen as one film. However, it has only been screened as such just twice – at Cannes and then in 2010

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a performance from the movie’s premiere by Chingon, the band fronted by director Robert Rodriguez (who contributed some music for the film).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $152.2M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Bill: Vol. 1

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World