Joshua Caldwell’s Infamous takes Bonnie and Clyde and places them firmly into 2020. It gives them mobile phones, Instagram accounts and a huge amount of superficiality. In a world where people are glued to technology, always angling for that dopamine hit of a like, a follower, a comment, this seems like an easy sell.
Ariel (Bella Thorne) – pronounced 'Are-real' (see what they did there?) and Dean (Jake Manley) are two young lovers on a spree of robbing banks across the southern states of America. Along the way Ariel is recording, photographing, live streaming and posting their exploits online in the interest of gaining followers and becoming famous. More a collection of loosely strung together music videos than a film, it boasts a soundtrack of 80s influenced pop dance songs. These play over montage sequences of the two leads 'doing crime' and posting it online, overlaid with big brash pink letters telling you how many followers they've accumulated.
All this sounds stylised, quite fun, maybe even enjoyable, and it is. To an extent. It isn’t boring. The issue is the two leads are so paper thin that you don’t really care what happens to them, you don’t invest in their relationship and you certainly don’t identify with their cause. They take little time to fully address the consequences or victims of their crimes, with the violence so stylised you also do not care for the many people they murder.
Take the aesthetic of Stranger Things, the costume design of True Romance, the plot of Natural Born Killers and remove everything that makes them good, and you get Infamous. Its main shtick, the constant exposure of our lives on social media, has been addressed better in earlier films. Ingrid Goes West takes this format and combines it with Enduring Love or One Hour Photo with more chilling and interesting results. The two leads in Infamous aren’t really damaged enough that you would buy the choices they make. In the end it feels like a slightly bizarre plot choice in a soap opera forgotten about by everyone a month later. Essentially, the whole concept of celebrity criminals was addressed more compellingly with Natural Born Killers, without an Instagram account in sight. The concept of the spreeing couple works on the basis of it being them against the world, rather than them trying to show off to the world.
Manley's Dean provides the occasional logical moment, suggesting that people watch mostly for something to do rather than because there is anything profound going on. We know he’s right, but he still goes along with Ariel’s insistence on raising the stakes, increasing the win, posting, following - more, more, more. His Hawaiian shirts are clearly designed to evoke images of Christian Slater in True Romance, but while Clarence and Alabama were mostly swept into chaos, Ariel and Dean seem to go looking for it because they have nothing better to do. Their plan to become rich and famous via the internet doesn't hold up to scrutiny, and how they have managed to avoid being caught before we meet them is a mystery to everyone involved.
If you watch the trailer for Infamous and think “Hey, that looks cool. I might watch that,” be aware that it constantly compares itself to similar and better films that have gone before. Just watch those instead.
Infamous is released on VOD from July 31.