Naked Singularity is a bewildering mashup of social justice themes, science fiction, and hackneyed crime thriller. A disaffected public defender becomes involved in a beautiful parolee's drug heist. While the universe counts down to inexplicably collapsing. None of it makes a lick of sense. Naked Singularity strives for depth and meaning, but comes up woefully short. Sergio De La Pava's celebrated debut novel gets a feeble big screen adaptation.
John Boyega stars as Casi, a well-meaning and virtuous public defender in New York City. He's tired of watching poor people incarcerated for minor offenses. Wealthy criminals post bond and go free while his clients unjustly rot in prison. He's also become the favorite target of an acerbic judge (Linda Lavin). Who's itching to have him disbarred for contempt.
Olivia Cooke co-stars as Lea, an ex-druggie working at a claims booth at the NYPD tow pound. She foolishly becomes involved with Craig (Ed Skrein), a small-time dealer who desperately wants to buy a specific car at the police auction. Lea confesses the scheme to Casi, who begs her to come clean to authorities. As Casi continues to struggle with a tortured existence, he begins to notice subtle changes to his surrounding reality. A scientist (Tim Blake Nelson) warns him that the world as he knows it is coming to an end. But his best friend and co-worker (Bill Skarsgård) says they must seize this opportunity to escape an oppressive life.
Naked Singularity bites off more than it can chew. The plot sputters as it goes off on bizarre tangents. Writer/director Chase Palmer, the screenwriter of It in his feature debut, needed to focus his efforts on the strongest parts of the narrative. The heist addresses the societal problems that bedevil the protagonist. But Palmer fails to connect the narrative threads to the climax in a meaningful way. The final act comes off as ludicrous with a load of philosophical and cosmic gibberish.
Chase Palmer misuses Olivia Cooke in this film. I'm willing to bet she didn't expect to see her character portrayed as such a stepping stool. Lea is a sex object that's willingly manipulated by men. She just can't stop jumping into bed and making bad decisions. Luckily, she has a heroic savior to rescue her from bad decisions. Lea's supposed to be street smart. She yearns to control her destiny, clearly understands the gravity of her choices, but makes them anyway to propel the script. Cooke has a great ability to play troubled characters. Palmer edits her into a naive and promiscuous performance.
Naked Singularity confounds on many levels. It tries so hard to be meaningful, but achieves the exact opposite. The characters on the page are striking. Casi and Lea are both damaged. They're shackled and willing to seek freedom at a great personal cost. Their relationship could have been better explored without the metaphysical nonsense. Naked Singularity is produced by 3311 Productions, Anton, Scott Free Productions, and Wolf Films. It is currently in limited theatrical release and will be available August 13th on demand from Screen Media Films.