Written and directed by Joshua Caldwell.
Starring Bella Thorne, Jake Manley, Amber Riley, Michael Sirow, and Marisa Coughlan.
Two young lovers rob their way across the southland, posting their exploits to social media, and gaining fame and followers as a result.
The Bonnie and Clyde-inspired lovers-on-the-run movie is certainly one which lends itself to diverse points of view – just take last year’s Queen & Slim. Yet while a millennial-centric take for the social media set absolutely could’ve bore compelling fruit, this shallow thriller from Joshua Caldwell (Be Somebody, Negative) largely produces mere groans and unintentional chuckles.
Arielle Summers (Bella Thorne) is a small-town girl hell-bent on becoming famous no matter what, and that’s exactly what she gets after crossing paths with dreamy ex-con Dean (Jake Manley). Though forging an immediate bond, the pair find themselves running from the law following a violent accident, committing a string of robberies in order to finance their road trip to Hollywood, all while livestreaming their antics and racking up millions of social media followers along the way.
With the right parity of filmmaker and material, one can at least see how this idea might’ve worked, but Infamous rarely dares to offer up more than the most predictable contemporary spin on tired formula. The runaway couple cliches are quickly barrelled through from minute two onward; the downtrodden protagonist from the wrong side of the tracks with the terrible job and desperate desire to leave her deadend town, the hot-but-dangerous love interest, and of course, the contrived episode which forces them on the rode before act one is over.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie, however, isn’t its superficial attempt to shock life into familiar subject matter, but the ineffable idiocy of the central twosome, even for characters who are clearly supposed to fit the young and dumb mould.
Given the myriad mistakes Arielle and Dean make during their crusade of crime, it’s honestly amazing they get anywhere at all, especially with Arielle’s penchant for publicising her crimes, as they happen no less, online. There are only so many times one can listen to Dean explain to her the stupidity of such behaviour before sympathy evaporates entirely, and the film lacks the satirical nous to form this into an interesting critique of soulless social media slavery.
Yes, there’s plenty of commentary here about the dangers of online aspirationalism and the nature of fame in the modern world, but there’s no unique viewpoint or aggressive follow-through to make it as interesting as, say, Natural Born Killers. The couple’s rise to online superstardom feels hurried – if not faintly ridiculous – though I did at least chuckle at how easily they were able to purchase a gun online (easily the pic’s most pointedly satirical moment).
Weak-sauce thematics are further compounded by frustratingly over-baked dialogue, be it shallow, corny musings on fate and the universe, or laying every crumb of context on so thickly that there’s no room for the audience to take stock themselves. Moreover, there are numerous unflattering comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde, with a livestream commenter even calling them, “B and C but hotter.”
By the mid-point Infamous settles fully into a gassed-out, trope-stuffed routine; there’s the inevitable robbery montage as the pair’s fame grows, and not one but two cop pullover scenes so familiar I couldn’t help but laugh uproariously. The guffaws and eye-rolls surely mount up as the film limps its way along, with a narrative trajectory practically inviting the audience to predict the next obligatory scene, while the central romance feels hurried even accepting the hormone-pumped impetus.
The performances are at least acceptable enough; Thorne is certainly trying here, yet the creaky dialogue does her no favours at all. Though it’s neat to see the Bonnie of this combination taking a more active role in the crimes, this “progress” feels rather counter-acted by her vapid obsession with social media stardom. Manley similarly does fine with what little he has, though the duo’s overall obnoxious recklessness makes them terribly unsympathetic when the net begins to close later on.
In terms of technicals, this is a competently made movie that should serve its target demo acceptably. The sun-kissed cinematography and synth-pop licks vibe well with the attractive young leads, while the pacing moves fast with propulsive energy and the obligatory surplus of neon. Veteran video game composer Bill Brown meanwhile provides a pulsing, occasionally dissonant musical score.
There are moments – fleeting though they are – where it feels like director Caldwell is trying to dish up the new Spring Breakers, with a sort of practised shallowness that belies a deeper message underneath. But there’s just no extra layer or added lens here to realise that possibility, even if the director’s occasional visual flair – especially during an in-car shootout filmed during a single take – suggests him worthy of more sophisticated fare.
These flashes of promise are constantly embattled by the film’s patent lack of subtlety or nuance; in one staggeringly on-the-nose dream sequence, Arielle imagines shooting a store clerk in the head as a crowd snaps photos of her, for example. Between this and Arielle’s routinely exasperating behaviour in particular, Infamous ends up a boneheaded commentary on social media obsession, culminating in an absolute thigh-slapping howler of a final scene.
Look, it’s hardly a torturous sit all things considered, but simply neither entertaining nor interesting beyond some perverse laughs. This boilerplate on-the-lam thriller desperately wants to be Bonnie and Clyde for the Instagram age, but quickly reveals itself to be scarcely puddle-deep.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.