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Film Review: ‘Naked Singularity’ Has Big Dreams but No Focus

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Ambition is always admirable, be it cinematic or just in general. When it’s fully realized, it’s a beautiful thing. At the same time, when it’s not, it’s hard not to feel disappointed. Naked Singularity is a perfect example of this, as good ideas and big potential is quickly discarded in a story you can’t possibly care much about. Early on, there’s a lot of possibilities on display, which is exciting. The longer it goes on, however, the more the scattershot execution becomes an issue. By the end, the film winds up being little more than a well-cast letdown, and that’s really a shame.

Naked Singularity is a waste of good actors and a potentially good idea. Perhaps the novel that this movie is based on did a better job. Perhaps not, too, but it’s irrelevant. Here, you quickly stop caring about the characters, even as the cast do their best to prevent it. It’s just not an engaging picture in the slightest.

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Casi (John Boyega) is fighting the good fight. Working as a public defender, he tries hard to keep the poor out of the criminal justice system in New York City. It’s a losing battle, one that’s wearing him down. Some of his clients, including Lea (Olivia Cooke), are repeat offenders. Her most recent issue, being set up by a hook up (Ed Skrein), could be a problem. As things mount for Casi, his smart remarks get the best of him, leading to a judge having it out for him. That’s going to be the least of his problems, before long.

Completely burnt out, Casi ends up being suspended for an outburst. Sensing an opportunity, his friend Dane (Bill Skarsgård) begins to recruit him for a get rich quick scheme. Utilizing Casi’s relationship with Lea, Bill wants them to rob some drug dealers. As is always the case with ideas like this, it’s easier said than done. Not only is Casi seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him, he now will have to worry about drug dealers killing him if anything goes wrong.

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John Boyega leads the cast here, and he’s good, but he’s better than the character. Boyega as an idealistic yet burnt out young New York City public defender could be an Oscar-winning role. This is clearly genre work and not that, but considering the potential, it’s a real shame. Boyega is never bad, but here he just doesn’t make an impression. Olivia Cooke has a vibrance here that elevates her character, arguably making her best in show. Bill Skarsgård is having fun, despite his character largely being annoying and a plot contrivance. The same goes for Ed Skrein, just without some of the fun appeal. Supporting players here include Tim Blake Nelson, Linda Lavin, Kyle Mooney, and more.

Co-writer/director Chase Palmer certainly throws a lot at the wall, hoping at least a few things stick. Palmer adapted the book of the same name with David Matthews, but something is clearly lost in translation. Naked Singularity is thoroughly a trying experience, as the cast are left out on an island alone. Try as they might, Matthews and Palmer never give them anything interesting to do. The universe type elements never synch either, leading to just another issue to unpack. It doesn’t work, and winds up being boring, which is a real shame.

Naked Singularity is a clear-cut disappointment, considering its potential. If you really like John Boyega, you’ll probably want to see this leading man role, but keep your expectations in check. Boyega can only do so much, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. This film could have been great. Instead, it winds up being wildly mediocre. Alas.

SCORE: ★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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