‘Infamous’: Film Review

Joe Leydon

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There’s something perversely fascinating about a film as aggressively off-putting as “Infamous,” a lovers-on-the-run crime drama that practically defies you to develop a rooting interest in its two dim-bulb lead characters. Writer-director Joshua Caldwell borrows freely and indiscriminately from several earlier and superior examples of its sub-genre — particularly “Gun Crazy,” “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Natural Born Killers” — while attempting to craft some kind of cautionary tale about the many and varied ways social media can turn the dangerously discontented into sociopathic celebrity-seekers. But as he indefatigably underscores the obvious while steadily escalating the violence, he does little to sustain the attention of his audience while taking an unconscionably long time to arrive at a thoroughly predictable conclusion.

Right at the start, Caldwell makes a serious mistake by borrowing a page from classic films noir (think “Detour,” “Double Indemnity,” etc.) and opening “Infamous” with a scene that reveals where everything will ultimately wind up. Maybe his goal is to emphasize the no-exit inevitability of his characters’ fates. At some point around the middle of the movie, however, many viewers will simply become increasingly impatient for the quietus that has been promised them.

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Bella Thorne, a sultry singer-actress whose credits run the gamut from starring in a sitcom for the Disney Channel to directing a hard-core short for Pornhub, stars as Arielle, a small-town Florida sexpot whose initial surliness suggests she has never forgiven her mother for naming her after “The Little Mermaid.” (No kidding: She says as much early on.) Arielle captures the eye  of Dean (Jake Manley), a slightly older, hunky blond ex-con who works as a mechanic in his abusive father’s garage. In turn, Dean is so smitten that he fails to fully consider just how risky it might be to engage with a woman who freely admits she will do damn near anything for a shot at fame and a ticket out of town.

Dean makes the first of many spectacularly bad decisions when, after his father is accidentally killed during a domestic scuffle, he accepts Arielle’s suggestion — her demand, really — that they jump into his car, head west and never look back. One thing leads to another, and Dean continues to behave in the manner of a man whose judgment has been irreparably clouded by his libido. He doesn’t even protest too much when Arielle records their robbery of a service station on her iPhone, then posts the video on social media so she can amass thousands of followers and scores of “likes.”

In short order, they launch a crime spree throughout Florida, preying on service stations and marijuana dispensaries in scenes infused with kinetic verve by DP Eve M. Cohen and editor Will Torbett. The more they rob, the more Arielle records — and the more followers Arielle attracts. (It’s a tad jolting, and even darkly comical, to see the couple donning the kinds of masks that have become all too familiar during our pandemic era.) Arielle insists there is a method to her apparent madness: The more famous she becomes, the more easily she will attain multi-media stardom.

She remains unshakably certain of her delusional reasoning, even after she fatally shoots a police officer during a traffic stop. Since Dean stays along for the ride, he has to start killing people, too.

One can always make the argument that it’s not absolutely necessary to have sympathetic protagonists for a drama to enthrall or enlighten. But “Infamous” pushes way, way too far in the opposite direction: Dean and especially Arielle seem so irredeemably psychotic even before they begin to mount a body count, you actively wish for them to be caught or killed. There’s never any chance that Caldwell will pull a Hitchcock and lure us into becoming guilty-bystander voyeurs, like the millions of followers supposedly addicted to the streaming exploits of these outlaws. Rather, you want to keep them at arm’s length, far beyond our potential for empathy, because they never merit such an emotion.

In fact, the “stardom” achieved by Dean and Arielle is never entirely credible, despite a game effort by Amber Riley to play their temporary captive as not just an admirer but a potential accomplice. When we finally do get a representative glimpse at the couple’s fan base, the moment smacks of indulgent fantasy, not corrosive irony. And when one of the outlaws breaks the fourth wall with a sly wink, it comes across as a snarky chef’s-kiss touch by a filmmaker who isn’t nearly as clever as he thinks.

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