Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 5th, 2021
Naked Singularity (Chase Palmer, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
In his feature-directorial debut, filmmaker Chase Palmer (co-screenwriter, It) constructs a world both ordinary and extraordinarily heightened, where supernatural forces may be at work in the otherwise humdrum lives of certain young attorneys and ex-cons. At the end of the day, however, Naked Singularity proves to be nothing more than a fairly straightforward heist movie, in which heretofore honest (sort of) individuals dip their toes in some criminal waters. That main plot line is handled competently enough, with solid performances from leads John Boyega (Pacific Rim Uprising), Olivia Cooke (Little Fish) and Bill Skarsgård (Villains), but it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before, albeit with different details. It’s in the promise of the mysterious and/or paranormal that the movie truly disappoints, for there is no there there. It’s just cinematic dressing on a slightly wilted dramatic salad.
The misdirection starts right away, with onscreen text informing us that we are “12 days until the collapse,” whatever that means (and it will remain a cloudy concept all the way through). But no matter, for we follow Boyega’s Casi, a public defender (a job he tells us about in unnecessary voiceover), as he stumbles his way through the day, too aggressive in his pursuit of justice for his clients to capably navigate the niceties of court. Which means things don’t go well. But hey, he’s the hero, so it has to get better, for sure. Meanwhile, we also meet Cooke’s Lea, a former client of Casi, who works for one of the city’s towing yards (and has a criminal record) and uses Tinder to hook up with one of the guys she sees there. Turns out her date, Craig (Ed Skrein, Midway), has ulterior motives, though. And then there is Skarsgård’s Dane, Boyega’s friend who appears to have his act a little more together. Except that he doesn’t.
Soon, the story’s narrative soup thickens, bringing in gangsters of various cultural persuasions, including a group of Hasidic Jews led by a man known as “The Golem.” There are drugs and lots of money on the line, and the stakes are high for everyone. And yet Palmer keeps us guessing that this may all be secondary to larger influences at work, using a pointless character played by Tim Blake Nelson (Just Mercy) for sleight of hand. But of magic there is none. It’s just the age-old stimulus of greed. As our hapless (but maybe not) threesome of Casi, Lea and Dane try to muscle in on the action, there’s no question that something of interest happens on the screen. They are fun to watch as things go a little haywire. But only for a bit. In the crowded mess of possible causes and effects, Palmer loses the thread. It’s watchable, but only so.