‘Infamous’ Review: Bella Thorne and Jake Manley Are Bonnie & Clyde for the Social Media Generation

Becoming famous always seemed alluring. But in recent years — especially in the wake of social media — fame has transformed from an aspiration into a currency of its own. If that’s the case, then the young criminals at the center of Infamous are more concerned with stealing attention than money.

Bella Thorne and Jake Manley star as two teens armed with a dream, two guns, and a smartphone. As Arielle and Dean, they aim to escape their sleepy Florida town. And it’s Arielle who decides to document their crimes on social media. In the process, the two achieve celebrity status, winning millions of devoted followers.

In today’s day and age, Infamous is shockingly plausible, and that fact makes it all the more effective.

Bella Thorne in 'Infamous'
Bella Thorne in ‘Infamous’ | Vertical Entertainment

Bella Thorne’s Arielle is fiercely unlikeable, but that’s the point

Right from her smug opening moments — including an attention-getting fourth-wall break — Infamous immediately establishes Arielle as a less-than-endearing character. There’s certainly something of a stereotype to Thorne’s character, the ambitious teen more obsessed with appearance and notoriety than accomplishments. But that’s why her performance works.

Infamous doesn’t care whether viewers care about Arielle herself. She’s a vessel the film uses to capture how social media and the thirst for fame it represents can overtake one’s life. The fact Thorne is easily the most famous face in the film — singer and Glee alum Amber Riley is the next biggest star to appear — only further underscores that point.

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‘Infamous’ leans into its place in the long line of road-trip crime movies

Infamous might not be subtle in its social (media) commentary. But writer/director Joshua Caldwell brings a lot of style and flair to the project. The filmmaker already has a handful of feature credits to his name. And he does a solid job with the action and dramatic beats. And especially early on, he wisely grounds Arielle and Dean’s wild crime spree in their romance.

The balance of classic action-thriller tropes and a modern sensibility also set Infamous apart. As it stands, the movie successfully builds on a legacy that includes Natural Born Killers, The Bling Ring, and (of course) 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. Along the way, Infamous does retread some familiar story beats. But it does so from a new perspective: behind a smartphone.

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‘Infamous’ will be released on June 12, 2020

Like Arielle, Thorne too is a Florida native. The actress starred alongside Zendaya in Disney sitcom Shake It Up. So perhaps she can relate to the character’s desire for something bigger. After all, she does serve as an executive producer on Infamous. And aside from a few cringe-worthy moments, Thorne is the perfect fit to bring Arielle’s story to life.

Manley lends reliable as the more level-headed and pragmatic of the two. Likewise, Caldwell, his crew, and the rest of his cast deliver a story that draws attention to just how far some people will go for fame. Infamous may not change any minds on the matter. But it does at least help put into greater context the current fixation on earning “likes” and “followers.”