From the very beginning of Joshua Caldwell’s Gen Z Bonnie & Clyde flick, Infamous, we know exactly how it’ll end and every single stop along the way. Every lovers-on-the-run thriller carries the same message, the same themes; celebrity fueled by violence, propagated by the communicative means of the time. In the moment, that means the killer duo comes armed with more than just ammo, they’re also packin’ a serious Instagram following.
As thin and extremely familiar as Infamous might be, it’s not completely empty or without some thematic merit. Bella Thorne, in a sexy femme fatale role as far removed from her Disney Channel past as her Pornhub directorial career, is a striking figure of social media obsession as Arielle. Sick of her crappy life in a crappy part of Florida referred to as the “redneck Riviera”, Arielle has a mean chip on her shoulder, especially for her mother for naming her after The Little Mermaid. Her reputation as a “slut” precedes her everywhere, but that doesn’t mean a thing to Dean (Jake Manley), a hot ex-con who catches her eye.
It’s a quick, slam-bang courtship. Dean may look like trouble, but it’s Arielle who has the violent streak, which when crossed with her need for fame makes a deadly combination. After a brutal fight earns her some Internet notoriety, it’s like a drug fiend getting their first taste. Arielle believes a person’s life can be measured by “Likes”,”Followers”, and “Retweets”, and she’ll do anything to make her life meaningful. After an encounter with Dean’s father ends in tragedy, the young lovers get the Hell out of town.
The dynamic between Arielle and Dean is slightly different than expected, which keeps Infamous more compelling than it has any right to be. While Dean, with his mop of dirty blonde hair and unshaven face, may look like the textbook rebel on the edge, he’s the more reasonable of the two. He rightly guesses that Arielle’s penchant for firing all of their robberies and murders on Instagram is an idiotic move that’ll get them caught. But he’s also a dude, and taken by her charms he can’t refuse her irrational instincts. The duo start small, robbing a grocery store, then move up to a weed distillery that doesn’t go as chill as one might think. Before long, Arielle has amassed millions of followers and needs to keep the body count up to please her audience.
It’s a sickening cycle of fame and violence that doesn’t feel too far-fetched for the time we live in. Infamous doesn’t have a ton to say about it, but it does have a lot of really corny, trash dialogue as the fleeing lovebirds race through southern America. Along the way, they stop to buy guns off the black market, which leads to the inevitable “teaching her how to shoot” scene. They also encounter Elle (Amber Riley), a bored, single telemarketer who happens to be one of Arielle’s die-hard fans. She’s so enraptured, Elle doesn’t mind being taken hostage at gunpoint. Elle, meant to ground the film from its frenetic pace, basically exists to deliver all of Caldwell’s messaging about being young and disenfranchised in America, all while giving Arielle what she needs to justify their killing spree.
It’s a big, flashy role for Thorne who leaps into Arielle’s daring and thirst for attention. She and Manley make quite a pair; he keeps it low-key while she attacks every line with gusto. The camera can’t get enough of these two, and Caldwell makes the most of every ounce of their charisma. There’s a certain nihilism to their performances, which when caught by Caldwell at the right moments, gives Infamous the depth he’s looking for but never fully grasps.
When the final standoff we’ve long expected arrives, it does so in especially ridiculous fashion. A job offer, a heist so ludicrous it is literally planned out by some stooge doing cocaine, does little to inspire the bitter cynicism Caldwell is aiming for. Movies like Infamous feel especially trite in the wake of the racially-charged and timely Queen & Slim, which took the genre in a direction it desperately needed to go.
Ultimately, Infamous is a lot like the social media celebrity Arielle desires most; good to have in the moment, but amounts to little in the long run.