Review: ‘Infamous’ (2020), starring Bella Thorne and Jake Manley

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bella Thorne and Jake Manley in “Infamous” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Infamous” (2020)

Directed by Joshua Caldwell

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed small town in Florida, the crime drama “Infamous” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two young lovers go on a robbery crime spree and post videos of their escapades on social media.

Culture Audience: “Infamous” will appeal primarily to fans of Bella Thorne, who makes a lot of trashy, lowbrow entertainment.

Bella Thorne in “Infamous” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

It’s easy to imagine how writer/director Joshua Caldwell probably pitched the story idea for “Infamous,” this painfully dull and dreadful mess of a movie: “It’s like ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ but for the social-media kids.” But what the “Infamous” filmmakers forgot is that young people who use a lot of social media tend to have short-attention spans and actually want to see things that are entertaining. In that regard, “Infamous” fails on almost every level.

The movie begins with a young woman, who appears to be in her late teens, sitting down in a room. She has blood on her face, as she says in a monotone voice, “I believe the universe has a plan for me, for you, for everybody … So my question is, ‘Is this my destiny?’ Is this what I’ve been fighting for?”

Meanwhile, there’s a dead guy sitting in a nearby chair, there’s a gun on the ground, and she speaks directly to the camera: “Hi, my name is Arielle. And for as long as I can remember, I knew I was going to be famous.” Then, in slow motion, a SWAT team bursts into the room, as the cops make their way toward this blood-spattered female, and a gun is pointed in her face.

Now that the movie’s opening scene pretty much gave away what’s going to happen to Arielle (it’s also shown in the movie’s trailer), viewers then get a flashback to what led up to that scene. Arielle Summers (played by Bella Thorne) is a bored and rebellious teen who lives in an unnamed Florida town, where she works as a waitress in a local diner. She’s been saving up her money to go to Hollywood in California and become “famous.” Arielle doesn’t seem to have any talent, so presumably she wants to be famous on social media or reality TV.

And it’s no wonder she wants to change her life. She sure doesn’t like living in the dumpy apartment that she shares with her single mother Janet (played by Marisa Coughlan), who works as a bartender in a nightclub. Janet has been dating a sleazy guy named Bobby (played by Joey Oglesby), and Arielle can’t stand him. When Bobby asks Arielle for some of  marijuana, she just flips him her middle finger and curses at him.

Arielle is not only a foul-mouthed stoner, she’s also a brawler. While she is dancing with a guy at a party, another girl comes up to Arielle and sucker punches her. Ariel isn’t going to just take it, so she ends up getting into a big catfight with the girl on the floor. People at the party start recording the fight on their phones.

And then, the next thing you know, enough people see Arielle’s catfight video for Ariel to gain 147 new followers the next day. It boosts her confidence and she’s gotten a taste of what a viral video can do for her popularity.

While she’s walking home one day, she sees a guy with bleach-blonde hair doing repairs on a car in his driveway. They get to talking and she finds out that his name is Dean Summers (played by Jake Manley), who has recently moved to the area because he’s on parole for robbery and assault. His parole requires that he stay with one of his parents, so Dean is living with his father Michael (played by Damon Carney).

After some back and forth flirting, Arielle and Dean start hanging out together, and they open up to each other a little bit more about their lives. Dean tells Arielle that his father is a “mean drunk and he’s bigger than me.” Arielle tells Dean that she doesn’t know her father, who abandoned her and Arielle’s mother because Arielle was an unplanned pregnancy.

It doesn’t take long for Arielle and Dean to hook up and then become lovers. Arielle’s straight-laced friends don’t approve of the relationship because Dean is an ex-con, but Arielle doesn’t care. It’s obvious that Arielle is intrigued by this “bad boy” and sees him as her ticket out of a monotonous life. And then the next thing you know, Dean and Arielle are doing target practice with a .45 caliber gun.

Arielle also sees firsthand how abusive Dean’s father is, which leads to a series of events where Arielle and Dean end up going on the run and committing robberies (mostly at convenience stores) along the way. The first time that they rob a store together, Arielle video records it, and posts the video on social media under an anonymous account where the IP address is blocked.

But this IP blocking is pointless when Arielle and Dean don’t do much to hide their identities during the robberies: They cover the lower half of their faces with bandanas, but they don’t disguise their voices, their mannerisms and their body types. And they don’t wear gloves during the robberies, making it easy for them to leave their fingerprints behind.

After her first robbery with Dean, Ariel immediately gets 3,000 followers, so Arielle then becomes addicted to getting more and more followers. Dean obviously doesn’t want to go back to prison, but he’s so dimwitted that, despite his protests, he ends up going along with what Arielle wants. Their relationship is based mostly on lust, and Arielle just seems to be using Dean to become famous on social media. Therefore, viewers of this movie shouldn’t expect anything that resembles a genuine romance between Arielle and Dean. 

But that’s not the movie’s real problem. The entire film is poorly acted, with Thorne alternating between over-emoting and acting like a person with a dead soul. It’s like she wasn’t given much direction on how to play Arielle and basically just showed up and played the character according to however she felt like that day.

Not that Arielle has much depth anyway. During the course of the movie, Arielle becomes so obsessed with getting famous from the crime spree, she makes a lot of dumb decisions, thereby making it easier for Arielle and Dean to get caught. Manley fares a little better in his portrayal as Dean, who actually seems to have some empathy about all the mayhem that he and Arielle are causing. Arielle is just plain selfish.

“Infamous” would have worked better as a comedic satire of the shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture of people who want to be famous just because they film themselves and post the videos on social media. Instead, the movie takes itself way too seriously, considering the film’s overall tackiness.

Amber Riley (of “Glee” and “Dancing With the Stars” fame) has a small role in “Infamous,” as a driver named Elle who gets carjacked by Arielle and Dean. This movie is a waste of Riley’s talent, because her scenes are really just filler to the inevitable end of this terrible movie.

Vertical Entertainment released “Infamous” on digital and VOD on June 12, 2020.