The good news is that there’s a terrific movie available on demand about a young couple who fall in love, embark on a life of crime and become social media sensations in the process.
The bad news for Infamous, starring Bella Thorne, is that the terrific movie is 2019’s Queen & Slim.
Suffering from poor timing that will inevitably produce a sense of déjà vu for many viewers, Infamous doesn’t really bring anything new or interesting to its subject, although there is an important difference (among several) between the two films. The protagonists of Queen & Slim didn’t look for attention; rather, it came to them via systemic racism. The antiheroes in Joshua Caldwell’s thriller actively seek it out. Or at least one of them does: Arielle (Thorne), who measures her life by how many followers, shares and likes she garners on social media.
Arielle first discovers that violence can boost one’s online profile after she gets into a fight with a girl at a club and the resulting footage significantly ups her profile. So she’s clearly ready to become an enthusiastic Bonnie to the reluctant Clyde of Dean (Jake Manley, A Dog’s Journey), a young and hunky ex-con with whom she forms an instant romantic connection.
After Dean accidentally kills his abusive father during a fight, the couple take it on the lam, intent on driving from southern Florida to the West Coast. They rob a convenience store to finance their journey, the danger and excitement of which only serve to turn Arielle on and cause her to pounce on Dean even while he’s driving. She’s even more excited when she posts the footage online and finds out that she’s become an internet sensation.
Cue the ensuing robbing and killing spree as the couple make their way across rural America. Arielle live-streams footage of their criminal activities along the way, becoming more assertive during their robberies and eagerly embracing her newfound notoriety. She also needs to procure a gun to keep up with Dean, which they find by looking up firearms for sale on a library computer. “Gotta love America!” Dean enthuses.
That line is but one of many examples of Caldwell’s screenplay making its social commentary points in all too obvious fashion, as if viewers wouldn’t be able to discern them otherwise. Another example is a television news reporter breathlessly declaring the couple “a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde,” a comparison that does neither the central characters nor the film any favors. There’s also the inevitable robbery montage, accompanied by a loud indie rock soundtrack and onscreen graphics indicating the couple’s growing number of social media followers.
The compendium of clichés might have been more palatable if the lead characters were more sympathetic, but it’s hard to connect to Arielle’s relentless need for attention and the utter stupidity that ultimately has tragic repercussions. The climactic scene, depicting perhaps the most inept bank robbery ever committed to celluloid, is meant to produce feelings of tragic irony but will instead have most viewers slapping their heads at the sheer idiocy on display.
Director-screenwriter Caldwell certainly keeps the pace moving fast enough, and the sun-drenched visuals are easy on the eyes. Manley underplays to good effect, while the charismatic Thorne, whom the camera seems to leer at obsessively, eagerly throws herself into her character’s wild-eyed exuberance. But no matter how hard she tries, there’s no escaping the feeling that we’ve seen this all before, and done much better.
Available on demand
Production: SSS Entertainment, El Ride Productions, Lucidity Entertainment, Beer Money Worldwide, SSS Film Capital
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Bella Thorne, Jake Manley, Amber Riley, Marisa Coughlan, Billy Blair, Jennifer Rader
Director/screenwriter: Joshua Caldwell
Producers: Colin Bates, Shaun Sanghani, Scott Levenson, Michael Jefferson
Executive producers: Bella Thorne, Joshua Caldwell, Kevin Beer, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Henry Winterstern, Bennet Litwin, Adam Liwin, Josh Sternfeld, Nathan Klinger, Wes Hull, David Lugo, Garrett Clayton, Katie Leary
Director of photography: Eve. M. Cohen
Production designer: Mark Bankins
Costume designer: Jillian Bundrick
Editor: Will Torbett
Composer: Bill Brown
Casting: Chris Freihofer