Naked Singularity, 2021.
Directed by Chase Palmer.
Starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgård, Ed Skrein, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Christopher Riley, Richard Gallagher, Robert T. Bogue, and Liza Colón-Zayas.
An idealistic young New York City public defender burned out by the system, on the brink of disbarment, and seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him decides to rob a multi-million drug deal of one of his clients.
In theory, director Chase Palmer’s Naked Singularity explores the cross-section between the laws of physics and the unfair laws of the justice system. It stars John Boyega as public defender Casi, who is increasingly frustrated at the poor treatment, lack of respect and dignity, and bogus trials with ridiculous sentences given to his clients. One of them faces further punishment for getting clean and healthy, so it’s not exactly hard to get in his corner. Casi also faces the harsh reality that he can’t do much for these people without obscene amounts of money, considering that the justice system is broken.
That’s not a bad concept for a film (Naked Singularity is actually based on the novel of the same name by Sergio De La Pava with a screenplay treatment from David Matthews), but as soon as Casi has a run-in with his pothead landlord (Tim Blake Nelson) babbling about how the fabric of space and time is collapsing, black holes, singularities, and other such nonsense that is occasionally visually represented in the presentation, meaning that we know the film is going to have some sort of weird fantastical element, there’s a sensation to check out mentally and emotionally. That’s not necessarily because justice and science can’t coexist, more so that the story here doesn’t know how to bring those aspects together cohesively for a worthwhile message. If anything, as the situation begins to intensify for the characters, the movie becomes less suspenseful because it’s clear that science, implausible or not, will save the day.
Elsewhere, impound worker Lea (Olivia Cooke) comes into contact with Craig (Ed Skrein) looking to get back a car, although the catch is that the owner is in jail. The more pressing issue is that the vehicle also happens to be stuffed with cocaine that he wishes to use for a massively financially lucrative transaction with criminals, so he’s pretty willing to do whatever it takes. As the two get to know each other (quite well, for various reasons), we also learn that Craig is a conspiracy theorist that believes in reptile human beings, which is the first of many signs that Naked Singularity isn’t that clever at peppering comedy into this otherwise dangerous ordeal.
Aware of the deal, Lea gets entwined with the law and the dealers aiming to play both sides and make out for herself to take control of her own life. She also has a tragic back story that puts Casi (a man who believes in second chances for everyone) on her side. What comes together is a heist where everyone has their own motives, especially as Casi’s partner, played by Bill Skarsgård, consistently talks about how much good they could do for their clients if they had the money for themselves while making sure the drugs never got out onto the street. While these are noble Robin Hood-esque ambitions, it doesn’t help that his character frequently says the strangest things meant to be hilarious, making him sound like a character from a different movie entirely.
The universe continues to alter subtly as Naked Singularity flirts with sci-fi territory before expectedly embracing it to a degree in the finale. It’s a narrative that is frustratingly all over the place and never quite unable to find a groove with everything on its mind. However, John Boyega and Olivia Cooke put in enough solid character work to make it nonetheless tolerable, but it’s still a cast wasted on unrealized potential.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com