Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, A Naked Singularity was a rage when it got published in 2008. It was hailed as one of the best literary pieces written in Maximalist tradition, and it came from a place of anger towards the judiciary. The thousand-page novel is quite long and its expansive world includes numerous themes and visual allegories. These are tailored for a three-hour film willing to give in to the patience of its filmmakers and actors.




However, Chase Palmer, who previously co-wrote the script of IT (2017), the contemporary Hollywood horror reworking of Stephen King’s novella, adjusts it into a film which ain’t half as long. Naked Singularity (2021) accommodates the characters, the mysteries and the anger in a 90-minute running time. As a result, the blend of various tones and multiple genres are tedious. At some point in the second half itself, I wished that the film ditched the book altogether and become its own beast briefly. The film is needlessly stretched and really boring at times.

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It’s such a shame that such revisionist, timely and potent literature cannot inspire some originality or behaviour in a Hollywood movie. I am saying this because the basic premise is complex. Casi is a hopeful young New York City public defender whose idealism is beginning to crack under the daily injustices of the very justice system he’s trying to make right. Doubting all he has worked for and seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him, he is pulled into a dangerous, high-stakes drug heist by an unpredictable former client to knock the fractured system at its own game.

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Now, on-the-face writing can help a movie like IT (2017). This, because the source, written by Stephen King, is built on neutral ground to scare. However, in Naked Singularity, Palmer’s writing is not only instantly comparable but also weak. Weak because, in an attempt to show the voids by the American legal system which needs major fixing, it ends up mocking the administration. While this is not entirely undesirable if done satirically, it ends up goofy and unintentionally odd.

Naked Singularity

The technical qualities are not effectively staged, either. Katie McQuerrey’s editing is mediocre in some places and atrocious in others. The cinematography by Andrij Parekh is a little too flexible, and there’s just no sense of innovation. The background score and other songs lack the current which the material needed, which is what can be said about the film as a whole. The visual effects department does a better job in the second half, but individually, even that comes off as quite average work.

Nothing angers me more than watching terrific actors getting wasted due to the wafer-thin scripts they choose to indulge with. John Boyega and Olivia Cooke delivered two of the finest acting performances in 2020. In Steve McQueen’s Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, Boyega was extremely powerful and intruding as Leroy Logan. His anger towards the system was so plausible that it felt like one’s own. In this film, a similar character is dumped off all the anger and what remains is a plastic agitation.




Olivia Cooke was affecting and strangely moving as Lou, Ruben’s girlfriend in Darius Marder’s Oscar-winning Sound of Metal. Here, she gets a lot more to do and shines incredibly. Her tense and unpredictable performance goes on to show how genuine of a talent she holds. Her character is fleshed out brilliantly, which is just one bright spot in an otherwise messy thriller.

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It’s a pity how unentertaining Naked Singularity is. The book is a towering work of fiction. It impressively morphs from a legal procedure to a heist story to science fiction in no time. It replicates the strangeness we are living in, and it does that as early as 2008. The movie is an appalling disappointment. It seems to be made by someone who was sent from another planet to bring a bad name to the compelling movies which adapted themselves from a book. It’s so bad, it’s just bad. The politics cannot be better, the execution of this politics cannot be more questionable.

As I write this, some of the poorest scenes flash on my mind like vignettes. The ugly battle between our heroine and the Mexican drug cartel she accidentally swiped right on lacks any immediate tension and tries to fill the shoes with unfunny black humour. Also, the romantic climax is not for everyone. It is either intolerably corny or masterfully staged, depending on how forgivable you found the entire viewing experience. I found it to be a relentlessly spoon-fed dose of sentiment.




Naked Singularity ultimately bottles down to a fast-paced yet witless mishmash of tones. Despite such a terrific choice of book to adapt, it fumbles through. Nothing angers me more than great actors getting wasted in terrible roles. If there’s one thing that produces as much anger inside me is a film that takes a political work of art and derides the politics to the point where it dumbs down. Chris Palmer evokes too much anger here, and not in a good way.

★½

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Naked Singularity Links – IMDb

 

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

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