An idealistic public defense attorney grapples with the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in freshman helmer Chase Palmer's quirky but charming 'perfect crime' caper "Naked Singularity," co-starring John Boyega, Bill Skarsgård, Olivia Cooke, and Ed Skrein. Comparably, the closest thing to "Naked Singularity" that I can remember is Norman Jewison's satirical legal system expose "And Justice For All" (1979),co-starring Al Pacino, John Forsythe and Jack Warden. Charismatic heroes like Boyega and Skarsgård, a reptilian villain like Skrein, and a desperate damsel-in-distress like Olivia Cooke keep this nimble but nail-biting exercise in larceny sufficiently compelling throughout its bustling, R-rated, 93-minute runtime. For a change, "Naked Singularity" lives up to its poster art of a pugnacious Boyega armed with a samurai sword which he wields with lethal ferocity during the finale. Making his directorial debut, Palmer shares credit for the screenplay with seasoned tv scribe David Matthews.
No, I haven't read Sergio De La Pava's massive 2008 novel "A Naked Singularity" which served as the film's source material. A self-published sensation, De La Pava's book came to the attention of the University of Chicago Press, and the UCP picked it up and reprinted it in paperback. The Wall Street Journal heralded De La Pava's book as one of 2012's ten best novels. Interestingly, like his struggling protagonist, De La Pava still toils as a Manhattan public defender. Juggling as many as 70 cases at a time, the author displays his prodigious, first-hand familiarity with the Manhattan criminal justice system. While the novel plunges the reader into far more detail than the film, Palmer remains largely faithful to the novel's main events. At 678 pages, teeming with details ad nauseam, De La Pava's tome amounts to a whopper. After savoring the cinematic adaptation, sheer curiosity prompted me to embark on the novel. Sadly, my chief discovery was Casi's pot-smoking neighbor Angus (Tim Blake Nelson),who explained "singularities" with Casi, had been whittled down to a bit part.
"Naked Singularity" opens with Casi (John Boyega of "Star Wars") awakening suddenly in the middle of the night as if he had been blasted from a cannon. "I am a public defender," Casi informs us in voice-over narration, "and there are only 15,000 of me for the 10.5 million people who were arrested last year in America. I work for a machine that is the U. S. Criminal Justice System. Once you fall in, it's almost impossible to get out. That's the harsh reality of the machine." Indeed, Casi looks like he hasn't slept in days. Worse, his sarcasm puts him at odds with cantankerous Judge Cymbeline (Linda Laven of CBS-TV's "Alice"),who is rapidly becoming grit in his craw. Casi dreams about beating the flawed system at its own game and giving his dysfunctional clients a second chance. Ignorant as most of his clients are, Casi knows the law well enough to help those who follow his advice. Casi's altruism often clashes with Judge Cymbeline's draconian reading of the law. She doesn't give anybody a break, ana she allows Casi enough leeway to stick his neck into a noose.
Meantime, Casi's daredevil colleague Dane (Bill Skarsgård of "It") notifies him about a client with sexy ears who has requested him to represent her in a drug rap. Actually, Casi remembers Lea (Olivia Cooke of "Thoroughbreds"),a lowly desk clerk with a criminal record at the NYPD Tow Pound, where stolen and lost automobiles are held. She explains she got busted for heroin. Moreover, her life depends on her staying out of jail. The two wind up in the back seat of a NYPD undercover car. Lea explains to two hard-nosed narcs, she was in cahoots with Craig (Ed Skrein of "Midway"),a subhuman street hustler who learned that a black Lincoln Navigator had been impounded. Nobody but the Mexican cartel, however, knows it contains $15 million in heroin. The cartel mule was visiting his girlfriend when the SUV disappeared. Craig offered her cash to obtain a sample of the contraband, so he could arrange a rendezvous with a high-level Hassidic gangster (Kyle Mooney of "Zoolander 2") nicknamed 'The Golem.' Despite informing on Craig to the narcs, Lea still plans to help Craig steal the narcotics and receive her a million-dollar cut of the profits. Of course, sharing anything with Lea is the last thing on Craig's greedy mind. If this synopsis doesn't grab you, "Naked Singularity" is probably not for you.
Nobody gives a bad performance. "Naked Singularity" gives John Boyega his best role to date. Skrein chews the scenery with relish as the despicable lowlifer who takes advantage of Lea. Olivia Cooke's Lea, however, doesn't take Craig's crap. She fights back. Indeed, she is fighting for her life as well as her future. In one scene, she complains to Casi that she is always "being chosen" rather than "choosing." She wants to change her life. She takes close quarters combat survival lessons to protect herself from Craig. Meantime, Casi wades into a dilemma that threatens to undermine his moral compass. He must decide if breaking the law to achieve a greater good is an option in his world of pristine idealism. Not only does Casi's thrill-seeking colleague Dane devise a plan to hijack the heroin shipment, but also to ensure the real criminals--Craig and the Mexican cartel--get caught with it, while Casi and he steal the villain's double-digit, million-dollar payday without getting shot to shreds. Unfortunately, Palmer & Matthews neglect to develop the sci-fi singularity subplot. Nevertheless, "Naked Singularity" qualifies as an entertaining heist thriller with a bittersweet, romantic ending.