Naked Singularity movie review: New York misery

MaryAnn’s quick take: A very good cast makes a valiant go of it, but a hugely ambitious experimental novel has been boiled down to a tepid mishmash of genres: social-justice drama + black-comedy heist + sci-fi mind-bender.
I’m “biast” (pro): love John Boyega; up for a sci-fi-tinged heist flick
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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John Boyega in the heist movie with a samurai sword. Sounds like a game of Clue, which would be more fun than this spectacularly unengaging flick. Naked Singularity struggles to rise to the level of “tepid mishmash of genres,” which is the most coherent thing to be said about it.

Writer-director Chase Palmer makes his feature debut trying to spin something bewitching out of Sergio De La Pava’s novel of the same name, but this apparently hugely ambitious and experimental book (I have not read it) has been boiled down into a slog through the bland and the tedious, in spite of the valiant efforts of its very good cast. Is this a social justice drama about an overworked and stressed-out public defender, Casi (Boyega: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Pacific Rim: Uprising), trying to do the best for his clients in a system that does little but rubber-stamp offenders into prison? Yes. Is this a black comedy about a woman (Olivia Cooke: Ready Player One, The Limehouse Golem) toiling as a clerk at the NYPD car-impound lot who gets caught up in the scheme of a sketchy dude (Ed Skrein: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Alita: Battle Angel) to “rescue” some heroin stashed in a seized vehicle? Yes.

Naked Singularity John Boyega
How cool would it be if this samurai sword was a lightsaber?

Is this a sci-fi mind-bender about the nature of reality? Well… Singularity would like to be that, too, but its halfhearted feints toward science-fiction notions never gel into anything, not even grading on the curve of weed-fueled shooting-the-cosmic-shit, as Casi gets into with a pal (Tim Blake Nelson: Just Mercy, Angel Has Fallen). Is the end of civilization in the offing here? We are given a regularly updated countdown of “X days until the collapse,” which may have something to do with the city’s frequent power outages. Or is the entire universe in danger, because gravity seems to be behaving rather strangely at times…?

Naked Singularity Olivia Cooke
If I just drove away out of this movie, would anyone even miss me?

It’s all metaphorical, probably: It’s just feels like the world is ending, because everything is so awful here. Palmer is clearly aiming for a 1970s, New York–is-dying vibe, the city and all its inhabitants dun-colored and beaten down. But in striving, perhaps, for a sense of timelessness, Palmer — who is Brooklyn based, so he knows this town — manages to make this not feel like NYC at all. And his central cast — Boyega, Cooke, and Skrein — are all Brits, and struggle with the accent. Is that meant to be part of an intentional discombobulation? If so, it is woefully miscalculated.

Look: If any undercurrent was going to strike a chord with me these days, it is absolutely “everything is awful.” But Naked Singularity failed to get me on-side. Mostly, I wanted it to be over so I could be put out of its misery.

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Fri, Aug 20, 2021 1:34am

Next up, Michael Bay’s adaptation of Infinite Jest…

reply to  Arthur
Fri, Aug 20, 2021 8:46am

Y’know, if the people who worked on this film thought it was an adaptation of Naked Lunch, that would explain a lot.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Arthur
Fri, Aug 20, 2021 12:46pm

Well, this is nowhere near a Michael Bay movie, though…