June may not be starting off super strong as far as new streaming releases go, but I’ve got some new mini reviews for you all regardless! If you’re thinking about trying out Paramount+ to watch the new Mark Wahlberg sci-fi film “Infinite,” you might want to reconsider. And Netflix has some new mediocre but watchable offerings on tap: the thriller “Awake,” and the animated movie “Wish Dragon.” You can read my reviews of those movies below, and you can also click here to check out my review of “In the Heights,” which is newly streaming on HBO Max.
If Paramount+ wants to stake their claim in the world of streaming services, they’re going to have to do a whole lot better with their original content than “Infinite,” a sci-fi/action movie that was originally slated to be released in theaters last year, before repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic eventually landed it a home release. I’m sure there are many people to blame for the utter failure of this movie, although I wouldn’t pin it on director Antoine Fuqua, who has proven his success at directing action films and thrillers over the years and who does imbue at least a little bit of this movie with some style. A lot of the problems with “Infinite” likely stem from Ian Shorr’s script, adapted from the novel The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz. The story follows Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), a man who is struggling with both medical and employment issues, and who possesses skills and memories that he has never experienced. One day Evan is found by Nora (Sophie Cookson), and woman who claims to belong to a group called the Infinites, people who are reincarnated but continue to possess the memories and knowledge that they have accumulated from their past lives over the centuries. Evan is one of them, but it is taking him longer than usual to access his past memories. Meanwhile, the Infinites must thwart the plans of one of their own, Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who sees the endless cycle of reincarnation as a curse and wants to end humanity for good. “Infinite” starts off with a bang, a loud and explosive car chase culminating in a couple promising to find each other in the next life before they are killed, but quickly becomes incomprehensible. “Infinite” builds its world in the most shallow way possible, gluing together concepts that we’ve seen before in much better movies without any sort of intelligent thought behind them. The cavalier way that Evan decides to immediately trust Nora and her reincarnation story is the same vibe that Wahlberg gives to his whole performance; it’s impossible to get behind the lead of a movie when they are this bland. There are some other very bad choices that ”Infinite” makes, namely the implication that Evan’s schizophrenia is actually him trying to recall his past lives (what) and the fact that these people can be reborn in the body of any gender, any ethnicity, any race, and yet all of the main characters except for the villain are white. It’s probably for the best that “Infinite” ended up skipping the theaters and going direct to streaming, where this embarrassment for everyone involved can be forgotten about as soon as possible. Also starring Toby Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, and Dylan O’Brien. Runtime: 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
What would happen to humanity if we were physically incapable of sleeping? That’s the question posed by director Mark Raso’s thriller “Awake,” an intriguing if not entirely successful take on the apocalyptic thriller. A mysterious event one day inexplicably causes all cars and electronics on the planet to lose power, and there are no unconscious people: everyone is awake, all the time. Everyone, that is, except Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt), the young daughter of Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a former Army medic and recovering addict who still peddles pills on the side. As the sleep-deprived masses descend into madness, Matilda, Jill, and her older son Noah (Lucius Hoyos) go on the run to find the lab of Jill’s former boss Dr. Murphy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), where they might be able to learn from Matilda how to help the rest of humanity before it’s too late. “Awake” is sprinkled with some pretty strong scenes that are both tense and creepy, like an early sequence set in a church that provides a disturbing look at how some people responded to the crisis. And Rodriguez delivers a strong lead performance, tough, smart, and ready to do what it takes to protect her children. It’s interesting too to see how jittery everyone gets as time progresses, until we are watching scenes from a literally blurred perspective that prompts the characters and the audience to question reality. But the film is overall a bit too messy to be a success. It seems like everyone figures out the insomnia issue pretty quickly, and the resolution to the whole affair is lame and impractical. Its characters are thinly sketched, its twists not especially exciting. I’ll avoid making a crack about watching “Awake” being a great way to put you to sleep, because I really don’t think the movie is that bad, but it is certainly proof that you need more than just a solid concept to craft a solid thriller. Runtime: 96 minutes. Rated TV-MA.
“WISH DRAGON” (Netflix)
It would be easy to write “Wish Dragon” off as an “Aladdin” knockoff, moved to a different culture and location. In fact, many scenes and lines of dialogue in “Wish Dragon” are so similar to scenes in Disney’s 1992 animated classic that it feels like the creators of the former film are winking at us rather than shamelessly ripping off the latter. From Sony Pictures Animation and written and directed by Christopher Appelhans, “Wish Dragon” opens on a lonely little boy, Din, who befriends a girl at school, Li Na, who shares his same quirky interests. The pair are inseparable, until Li Na’s father, Mr. Wang (Will Yun Lee) moves her from their crumbling, yet steeped in tradition Chinese neighborhood, to the booming, modern city of Shanghai. Years later, Din (voiced by Jimmy Wong), is a college student neglecting his classes in favor of side jobs to earn some extra cash. Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), meanwhile, is living a lavish life and taking modeling jobs; the only time Din has seen her in the last decade is on a billboard, but he is determined to reunite with her. And then Din is gifted a teapot from a strange old man, from which emerges a dragon called Long (John Cho). Long is tasked with granting three wishes to whoever holds the teapot. Once he has served his tenth master, he will be allowed entry to the spirit world, and of course Din is his tenth master. Din uses Long to both find Li Na and make himself appear to belong to a higher social and economic class than he actually does so that she and her father won’t shun him, all the while being chased by thugs who are tracking down the teapot for their boss. The assumption is that Din wants to be with Li Na again because he is as lonely as he was before he met her (there are hints of potential romance in some of their scenes together, but their relationship never gets to that point in the movie), but even if his motivations are a little muddy, the scenes that focus just on the two of them are the strongest in the film. They live in very different worlds, but they share the same struggles and desires. Li Na, for instance, is also lonely because her father is frequently too busy for her, and she doesn’t necessarily want the future he has laid out for her. Once Long and subsequently the bad guys are introduced into the film, however, the story actually becomes less interesting. Long doesn’t have a big enough personality to make him an interesting genie-like character, and the jokes revolving around him trying to make sense of a modern world he isn’t familiar with after being trapped in the teapot for centuries aren’t particularly funny. And as soon as we can tell where the story is going, it’s almost too predictable to remain fully engaged with it. But the characters are otherwise nicely developed and the voice actors do a good job, particularly Wong and Bordizzo in selling the relationship between Din and Li Na, and Constance Wu, who voices Din’s mom who, like Li Na’s father, also seeks the best for her son. While visually it isn’t as eye-popping as some of Sony Animation’s more high profile films, “Wish Dragon” is colorful, and skillfully uses color and design to differentiate between the cold modernity of Shanghai and the warm traditionalism of Din’s neighborhood. “Wish Dragon” isn’t memorable, but it is pleasant, and its message of staying true to yourself resonates strongly no matter how many times we’ve heard it before. Runtime: 98 minutes. Rated PG.