Review by David Baldwin
Casi (John Boyega) is an idealistic public defender in New York City. He wants to believe in the system, even though he knows it will keep failing him and his clients. On the verge of being disbarred, he takes on the case of Lea (Olivia Cooke), a former client and someone Casi happens to have a crush on. She has gotten mixed up in a scheme to steal an impounded car that is stashed with heroin and has her own motivations for wanting to be involved. As Casi begins seeing signs of impending universal destruction, he decides to get involved too.
I had read some bad buzz before traveling into Naked Singularity and was expecting the worst. Instead, what I got was an overly ambitious film with a few too many ideas and genres smashed together into one film that runs just under 90 minutes. First time feature director Chase Palmer (who previously collaborated on the script for the wildly successful first part of IT four years ago) clearly has enthusiasm for this wild story and fills every frame with bright colours and stylistic flourishes. The soundtrack is a bit of an eclectic mixed bag but it gets the job done. He keeps the science and physics discussions minimal initially (along with mentions of “reptoids”), before having his actors launch into whole chunks of exposition about singularities and multiple variations of characters in different timelines. It is just as weird as it sounds, and frankly does not fit into the rest of the film that stands around it. I assume these are elements from Sergio De La Pava’s original novel that Palmer added purposefully, but all these moments do is get in the way.
If those science fiction elements were not enough, the frantic, hurried pacing of the comedic crime thriller Palmer is going for makes Naked Singularity into a jumbled mess. I appreciated that he kept things moving and interesting, yet think he could have finessed some sections a bit more and better expanded on others. He may know what he wants this film to be, but for the rest of us, it is a bit of a challenge to decipher. And while Ed Skrein is effectively menacing (though not at all smart) and Bill Skarsgård seems to relish playing Casi’s coked out lawyer bro (who is more of a plot device than he is an actual character), Palmer’s not-so secret weapon is the combination of Boyega and Cooke.
Both performers shed their native accents for something a bit more New Yorker and make every moment they appear on screen insanely watchable. They have some romantic chemistry, but they work even better as individuals carrying the movie on their shoulders and navigating through all the weirdness Palmer throws at them. Boyega’s character’s confidence is all over the place, yet as an actor, he remains resolute and singular minded. Forget whatever you may have thought of him in Star Wars; this is the kind of go-for-broke performance he first started turning heads with a decade ago when he was leading the insanely underrated Attack the Block. Cooke is just as great if not better. Her accent sounds authentic and her character feels genuinely lived-in, even if we only get a small play-by-play of her life prior to the start of the film. She is laser focused and completely unaffected by any of the shortcomings of the screenplay. For fans of both of these actors, you will not be disappointed. I just wish the film was as strong as they are.
Naked Singularity is available on VOD and Digital now.