Directed by 2017’s It screenwriter Chase Palmer (and despite taking a whopping 8 years to come to the screen), Naked Singularity serves as hybrid black comedy/light drama/dangerous crime/light sci-fi movie with a lot on its mind. The film takes an impressive slate of acting talent, slotting them into characters based on the book A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava. Casi (John Boyega) is a hugely successful New York City public defender who has never lost a case—until now. Lea (Olivia Cooke) is a former client working guest service at an NYPD impounding center. After Lea comes upon a goldmine heroin stash via a sleazy drug dealer (Ed Skrein), she gets caught with a sample and taken in. A series of misadventures leads Casi into planning and executing a heist to obtain the heroin, with the help of his close friend Dane (Bill Skarsgard). Think Baby Driver, only filtered through a late-90’s, early 2000’s heist filter.
The cast in Naked Singularity is cherry-picked with some of the best rising talent. John Boyega leads the all-star cast as Casi, his charisma saving the courtroom scenes from feeling dry. Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One, Bates Motel, and Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, among others) and her Bay Ridge accent is everything I never knew I needed. Lea is caught between two worlds, a strong female character that injects femininity into this hyper masculine existence. The smirky smug villainous character might be a role Ed Skrein can play with little effort at this point (see: Deadpool), but it’s clear Skrein is having a blast as baddie Craig.
Bill Skarsgard’s first scene in the film’s opening minutes sees the Pennywise actor snorting a line of cocaine. It’s an early tease as to the nature of his wide-eyed, energetic performance. Dane’s character becomes pivotal during the heist (“I love getting processed!”), and allows Skarsgard to showcase his acting range. Also, it’s hard to fault any movie that smartly stages outrageous bro moments like Casi and Dane wrestling, or the duo charging onto the stage dressed as hasidic Jews. Casi and Dane’s comedic relationship is best summed up in one of Dane’s lines: “I would kiss you if I didn’t have this little sore I can’t quite ID.”
Naked Singularity is unique in that it spins sci-fi, courtroom procedural, and exciting drug heist all into one grand slam of a movie. All the moving pieces of the heist are wild and engaging. A scathing examination (and subsequent commentary) on the United States criminal justice system isn’t shy about the stance it takes. It never gets preachy or schmaltzy, relying on dark humor and magical realism to sell its thematic musings. It refers to poverty as “a disease” multiple times, and even once compares being impoverished to being a slave. Who really has the cure? At times a beautiful love letter to NYC, a contemplative social commentary piece (“one can break the law and still believe in justice”), a rousing heist movie—wherever Naked Singularity chooses to take camp, I’m just happy it exists in the first place.
Naked Singularity screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9th – April 18th. It comes to limited release theaters on August 6th, followed by a VOD release on August 13th.