Naked Singularity (2021) ☆☆(2/4): Tepid Singularity

“Naked Singularity”, which somehow crept into South Korean theaters in last week, is not as singular as whatever it wanted to be. The movie itself is not awful at all, but it is a tedious mess of half-baked ideas which did not interest me that much throughout my viewing, and I only came to feel sorry for some of its main cast members, who, in my inconsequential opinion, are too talented to appear in this bland misfire.

At first, the movie seems to want to be as angry and absurd as Norman Jewison’s “…And Justice for All” (1979). Just like Al Pacino’s lawyer hero in that film, Casi (John Boyega) has been pretty tired of being stuck inside a problematic legal system as one of its mere cogs, but, as a public defender, he keeps getting saddled with numerous cases beyond his control. No matter how much he tries, he finds himself more frustrated and exasperated, and that makes him have more doubt and disillusionment on his life and career – especially when he gets suspended for several months just for causing the petty ire of one of his usual judges.

Meanwhile, there comes a case which looks seemingly simple at first but turns out to be quite more serious than expected. The defendant in question is a young woman named Lea (Olivia Cooke), and she gets herself into a big trouble after letting herself associated with a small-time local drug dealer named Craig (Ed Skrein). There was a vehicle which has a considerable amount of drug hidden inside it, and this vehicle unfortunately happened to be taken to a city facility where Lea works. All she will have to do is doing some inside job for helping Craig buy that car during the following auction, but things has gotten quite complicated after she got caught by two cops with a small portion of drug in her possession, and she must balance herself carefully between the police and her potentially dangerous associates.

Now this situation is pretty much like what we have seen from other countless crime movies such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (1997), but the movie, which is based on Sergio De La Pava’s novel “A Naked Singularity”, does not develop this part much as paying more attention to Casi’s increasingly peculiar state of mind. More exhausted by his jobs, he begins to see strange things popping up here and there around him, and an odd guy living in the same apartment building naturally gives him some information about a certain scientific term called, yes, Singularity. It seems that things are really falling apart as Casi has always felt for years, and the movie even gives us the countdown for whatever will happen around the end of its story, through, with occasional blackouts along the story, that only made me quietly hum a certain part of one of the highlight songs from musical film “In the Heights” (2021).

As a consequence, this quirky side of the film merely feels superficial without bringing any mood and personality to what can be regarded as a mediocre variation of those numerous heist flicks out there. Finally deciding that enough is enough, Casi embarks on a plan for beating the system in addition to benefiting himself a bit, and his close colleague Dane (Bill Skarsgård) gladly joins him without any hesitation, but they soon come to find that the situation can be way over their heads. Besides a certain local ethnic criminal organization Lea and Craig are supposed to deal with, there also come a bunch of criminals who are the original owner of that drug, and both Casi and Lea must think fast for avoiding any fatal misstep.

However, the movie fails to generate any fun or thrill even during this part. Although it muses a bit on some multiple possibilities along with Casi and Dane, we already can discern where it will inexorably arrive along with its main characters, and the following ending feels hollow and artificial without anything for us to reflect on in terms of story and characters. We do not get to know much about its main characters as they are no more than cardboard caricatures, and the story itself feels blander and emptier because of that.

If you remember his breakthrough turn in “Attack the Block” (2011), you surely know well how electrifying John Boyega can be, but I must tell you that he is far less interesting here as often being awkward with his flat role. He does try as much as he can with whatever is given to him, but he still fails to compensate for many weak aspects of the film, and I would rather recommend you to watch his powerful acting in “Red, White and Blue” of Steve McQueen’s recent anthology series “Small Axe”.

In case of the other main cast members, they have a little more advantage as the more colorful characters in the story, but they are mostly wasted on the whole. While Olivia Cooke manages to bring some pluck to her supporting role, Ed Skrein and Bill Skarsgård frequently go over the top as required, and Tim Black Nelson and Linda Lavin are sadly under-utilized despite their distinctive presence.

Directed by Chase Palmer, who wrote the adapted screenplay with David Matthews, “Naked Singularity” fails a lot in many aspects, and that often took my mind back to several recent films which did a better job in each own way. If you want a more entertaining and whimsical social satire, there is Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” (2018). If you want to a full-throttle courtroom satire drama, there is “…And Justice for All”. I assure you that you will have a more meaningful time with either of them.

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