Bella Thorne as Arielle Summers
Jake Manley as Dean Taylor
Amber Riley as Elle
Michael Sirow as Kyle
Marisa Coughlan as Janet
Written and Directed by Joshua Caldwell
At some point in every Disney kid’s career, they feel the need to try and break free from their family-friendly image into more mature material. Some stars, such as Cole Sprouse, Vanessa Hudgens, and Brenda Song, were able to find this path while others are still struggling to make that transition and the past few years has seen Bella Thorne try her hand, with her latest effort coming in the form of Joshua Caldwell’s new thriller Infamous. However, much like some of her unfortunate fellow House of Mouse graduates, she still has yet to find the one project to help propel her to mature stardom, as this modern-day take on Bonnie and Clyde proves to be a real snoozefest from start to finish.
Infamous is the story of two young lovers who rob their way across the southland. Arielle (Bella Thorne) is a down on her luck dreamer who longs for popularity. Dean (Jake Manley) is an ex-con working for his abusive father. The two have an instant connection, and after the accidental death of Dean’s father, they are forced on the run. In an attempt to gain social media clout, Arielle livestreams their exploits and robberies, gaining them viral fame but ultimately leading them towards a tragic ending.
The film doesn’t start off on an interesting or wholly original note, with the moody Arielle lashing out at her absentee mother and her disgusting boyfriend and finding a connection in fellow outcast Dean. One finds herself ridiculed by her friends and family for her promiscuity while the other is ostracized by the whole town for his criminal past and while the latter shows interest in bettering his life and staying on the straight and narrow, he’s pulled into a dangerous world by the former. While the script flips the gender norm on its head of the woman being seduced by the life of crime and initially presents Arielle as a more sympathetic character, it quickly loses this steam as the two embark on their journey.
Similar to the 2012 crime thriller Spring Breakers, the film has some important themes of the dangers of modern-day superficiality and over-attachment to social media, and though it has a more set endgame for its characters than the Harmony Korine-helmed hit, it still feels similar in its style and handling of these themes. Even if audiences didn’t connect to the characters in the opening act before they begin their crime spree, we’re still meant to enjoy their robberies as they’re glorified on-screen with upbeat pop music and plenty of slow-motion editing during robberies, but this feels very counteractive to its messages. Unlike Natural Born Killers, which glorified its couple’s crimes to an uncomfortable degree, this film never takes off or escalates in a way in which we want to fully stand with or against them, only glorifying them without meaning.
The chemistry between Thorne and Jake Manley is certainly there and in some scenes, it radiates accordingly, but the majority of the film still finds Manley trying hard to ape the cool bad boys of the past, from Nicolas Cage’s turns in both Wild at Heart and Valley Girl to John Travolta in Grease. Give him some gel-slicked hair and more leather attire and he’s no different from any tough guy of the ’50s and sadly his performance doesn’t help break this stereotype or set his character apart.
Thorne is certainly proving herself a capable artist in less family-friendly fare and though her character is mostly full of stereotypes and unlikable, she does a better job of bringing her to life than her male costar. In some of her warmer and comedy-skewing moments, she proves to be a charming lead, but for the majority of the film, she just proves to be a medium-lit bulb at the bottom of a 100-foot-deep well.
With a plot clearly taking from countless Bonnie and Clyde interpretations and 2012’s Spring Breakers and a cast of wholly uninteresting and unoriginal characters, Infamous leaves audiences begging the question of why this film exists and why Caldwell didn’t strive for a better balance of thematic storytelling and slick style.