Review: ‘The Woman King,’ starring Viola Davis

September 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “The Woman King.” Pictured in front row, from left to right: Lashana Lynch, Viola Davis and Sheila Atim. Pictured in second row, from left to right: Sisipho Mbopa, Lone Motsomi and Chioma Umeala (Photo by Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures)

“The Woman King” (2022)

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Culture Representation: Taking place in the mid-1800s in West Africa, the action film “The Woman King” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and royalty.

Culture Clash: General Nanisca leads an all-female group of warriors in the African kingdom of Dahomey, as they battle against the slave trade and the rival Oyo Empire. 

Culture Audience: “The Woman King” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Viola Davis and military action movies that are told from a female perspective.

Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu in “The Woman King” (Photo courtesy of TriStar Pictures)

“The Woman King” is sometimes cluttered and uneven, but the movie’s compelling performances, gripping action and inspiring personal stories can keep most viewers interested. Viola Davis is the movie’s title character and should have been in more scenes. Instead, at least half of the movie is about a rookie military recruit, who starts out as an underestimated newcomer and overcomes challenges, on and off the battlefield. “The Woman King” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Dana Stevens, “The Woman King” is inspired by true events that happened in West Africa in the mid-1800s. Davis (who is one of the producers of “The Woman King”) portrays General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of warriors protecting the African kingdom of Dahomey.

These women have a fearsome and bold reputation that is so widespread, when they arrive as visitors in a village, people are afraid look at them. Some of these warrior women’s exploits are exaggerated in stories told among villagers, while other exploits are not exaggerated, including the warriors’ participation in vicious killings. For example, the movie shows how the women specifically train themselves on how to murder people by chopping off their heads.

King Ghezo (played by John Boyega), the reigning leader of Dahomey, is part of the kingdom’s dwindling male population. Dahomey has been in a longtime feud with the Oyo Empire, which is also in West Africa. The on-again-/off-again warfare between Dahomey and Oyo has resulted in Dahomey being forced to give up male residents to Oyo, which has been selling these men in the growing slave trade.

Needless to say, the slave traders (the African traitors and the white male buyers) are the story’s biggest villains. Leading the group of white slave traders is Santo Ferreira (played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a Brazilian aristocrat who tries to convince King Ghezo to start profiting from the slave trade by selling slaves directly to Santo and his colleagues. King Ghezo needs the money, and the movie ultimately shows whether or not he makes the decision to sell out his own people. Someone who does sell his own people with no hesitation is Oba Ade (played by Jimmy Odukoya) from the Oya Empire.

Meanwhile, in Dahomey, a 19-year-old woman named Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu) defiantly refuses to marry an older, wealthy man whom her father has chosen for her. This would-be husband immediately shows that he’s abusive when he punches Nawi for not being submissive to him. Nawi defends herself by pushing this abuser down to the ground. He’s shocked that she won’t let him get away with abusing her.

Nawi tells her father that she doesn’t want to have a husband and that she wants to be a soldier. And so, Nawi’s father decides he’s going “punish” her by making her enlist in the toughest military unit around: the Agojie army. Nawi arrives as very physically unprepared and insecure new recruit. She tries to hide her insecurity by acting like she knows more than she really does.

Nanisca gives the responsibility of training Nawi to Nanisca’s right-hand woman Izogie (played by Lashana Lynch), who is as fearless as Nanisca and very loyal to her. Another member of this military unit is Amenza (played by Sheila Atim), who has known Nanisca the longest and is Nanisca’s closest confidante. Amenza is compassionate as well as tough. Lynch and Atim are entirely believable in these supporting roles.

Nawi doesn’t make a good impression on the Agojie leaders because she often acts like an entitled brat. In one of the first conversations that Nawi and Nanisca have with each other, Nanisca comments that Nawi looks a lot younger than 19. Nawi says to Nanisca, “You look like an old woman to me.”

The movie has the expected scenes of inexperienced recruit Nawi making mistakes and failing in some physical challenges during the training process. She’s laughed at and taunted by some of the other trainees, but she doesn’t experience any extreme military hazing. It should come as no surprise that Nawi eventually improves (in her attitude and physical skills) and then excels. Mbedu is quite good in depicting Nawi’s metamorphosis.

Izogie ends up relating to Nawi because they both came from dysfunctional families. Izogie, who knows about Nawi’s abusive father, confides in Nawi one day by saying that Izogie experienced the pain of having an abusive mother. Izogie comments to Nawi about the Agojie warriors: “You have a new family now.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian slave trader Santo has a servant named Malik (played by Jordan Bulger), whose biracial identity often tests his loyalty. (Malik’s mother was an enslaved black woman, and his father was white.) Malik often has to choose between his white employer and the black people with whom Malik identifies with more. Malik and Santo are about the same age, and they grew up together, with Malik always having the role of Santo’s servant.

Malik and Nawi become attracted to each other, but their possible romance is hindered by Nawi’s doubts about how involved Malik is in the slave trade. Malik repeatedly tells Nawi that he’s not a slave trader, but she questions his honesty, considering that he works for a slave trader. To bring some playfull sexiness into the movie, there’s a scene where Nawi takes away Malik’s clothes as a prank when he’s skinny dipping by himself near a waterfall.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this movie called “The Woman King,” not “The Woman Rookie”? One of the frustrating aspects of “The Woman King” is that the Nanisca isn’t in the movie as much as she should be. Nanisca is not exactly sidelined, because Davis is such a powerhouse performer, she makes the most of her screen time, even with her facial expressions. However, a huge part of the story is about Nawi’s personal dramas.

The movie becomes a little bit of a soap opera when something from Nanisca’s past comes back to haunt her. It’s a secret that Nawi finds out about in a way that shakes Nawi to her inner core. Very few people know about this secret. And, at first, Nawi doesn’t quite believe this secret until she sees proof.

“The Woman King” can be commended for showing some of the realistic ups and downs that military groups have with each other and with the governments that they serve. Nanisca has some tension with King Ghezo’s opinionated wife (played by Jayme Lawson), who thinks that Nanisca is too radical. It irritates King Ghezo’s wife when he takes Nanisca’s advice.

The power struggle between Nanisca and King Ghezo’s wife doesn’t become a major showdown though, because the king always treats his spouse as more or less a trophy wife. It’s very obvious from the beginning of the movie that King Ghezo has more respect for Nanisca than his wife, when it comes to leadership skills and camaraderie. Doesn’t the title of this movie say it all?

“The Woman King” has some intense battle scenes and depictions of enslavement that might be too hard to watch for very sensitive viewers. The battle scenes show how even though many of these women might be physically smaller than their male opponents, the female warriors have trained to outwit their opponents with strategic fight moves. The movie also makes a point of how the women pay respect to their fallen comrades using their African religious traditions.

Although “The Woman King” has a well-developed story arc for Nawi, the development of the Nanisca character sometimes fall short of what many viewers might expect. Nanisca gives a little bit of background information about herself, including her secret that affects Nawi. Even with this big secret revealed, Nanisca still remains stoic and somewhat mysterious by the end of the movie.

Viewers never really find out what Nanisca’s interests are outside of this army of female warriors and the army’s duties to protect Dahomey, but that could be the point: Nanisca’s life revolves around this group. It’s testament to Davis’ immense talent that she conveys enough of a personality with Nanisca to show that this extraordinary warrior is not a hollow character but has lived a life of pain and hard-fought survival that she doesn’t easily reveal to others.

TriStar Pictures will release “The Woman King” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘892,’ starring John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Michael Kenneth Williams, Connie Britton, Jeffrey Donovan, Selenis Leyva and Olivia Washington

January 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Boyega in “892” (Photo by Chris Witt)

[Editor’s Note: After this movie premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Bleecker Street acquired the movie and changed the movie’s title from “892” to “Breaking.”]

“892”

Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Marietta, Georgia, the dramatic film “892” features a cast of African American and white characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former U.S. Marine, who’s an Iraq War veteran, takes hostage of a bank in order to get the $892.42 that he says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs owes him.

Culture Audience: “892” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in suspenseful but formulaic movies with themes about how U.S. veterans are treated by the government, as well as racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Michael Kenneth Williams (pictured at far right) in “Breaking” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

The suspenseful drama “892” leaves some major questions unanswered, but the message of this movie is loud and clear: “The U.S. government needs to improve how military veterans are treated by the system.” John Boyega gives a riveting performance in a movie that’s sometimes hampered by hostage movie clichés, underdeveloped characters and not enough empathy for the hostage victims. “892” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Based on true events, “892” is the second feature film directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, who co-wrote the “892” screenplay with Kwame Kwei-Armah. The screenplay is based on Aaron Gell’s 2018 Task & Purpose article “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him.” It’s a movie that takes some shortcuts in telling a story that puts more emphasis on showing the stress and intensity of a hostage situation instead of giving a well-rounded view of the people who were directly involved in this crisis.

The movie is told mostly from the perspective of a former U.S. Marines lance corporal who takes hostage of a Wells Fargo bank in Marietta, Georgia. This Iraq War veteran is angry and frustrated that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, also known as the VA, has withheld payment of $892.42 that he says he has a right to have. In real life, this hostage incident took place on July 17, 2017. And this distraught former military man was Brian Brown-Easley, a 33-year-old divorced father of an elementary-school-aged daughter.

Boyega portrays Brian Brown-Easley with a mixture of compassion, sorrow and ferocity in how this doomed military veteran expresses himself and interacts with the people around him. Most of the movie is told in “real time” during this bank standoff, but there are a few flashbacks that give some (but not enough) information on what led Brian to commit such a desperate act. The movie shifts perspectives mainly when it shows what’s happening outside of the bank during this standoff, as one person involved has somewhat of a breakthrough in emotionally connecting with Brian.

The beginning of the movie shows that Brian appears to be a devoted father to his daughter Kiah (played by London Covington), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. As they spend time together talking on the phone, they have a father-daughter joke about the “Lord of the Rings” villain creature Gollum and the character’s grotesque physical appearance. Brian is putting up a happy front for Kiah, but his life is really falling apart.

Brian is living in a motel, which is about to evict him for non-payment. It’s one of the reasons why Brian is so angry that he can’t get the $892.42 benefits payment that he says that the VA is wrongfully withholding from him. A flashback shown later in the movie reveals that this payment was denied to Brian because the VA was paying for Brian’s college tuition, but VA records show that he stopped attending the college, so the VA withheld payment to compensate for the college tuition. Brian insists it’s a case of mistaken identity.

About 10 minutes into the movie, Brian is shown holding the bank hostage, so viewers don’t get to know much about Brian in the beginning of the film. Brian walks into the bank while he’s carrying a backpack, and he calmly interacts with a bank teller to withdraw $25 from his bank account. He has a friendly bank teller named Rosa Diaz (played by Selenis Leyva), who is chatty and helpful. But after Brian gets his $25, he shows her a note that says, “I have a bomb.” And that’s when things take an ominous turn.

A quick-thinking bank manager named Estel Valerie (played by Nicole Beharie) notices that Rosa seems very anxious with Brian. Estel immediately figures out that some kind of robbery or threat is in progress, so she’s able to discreetly get most of the employees and all of the customers out of the bank. The bank isn’t that crowded, but it’s a bit of an “only in a movie” stretch that one person was able to do all of this so quickly without the hostage taker noticing that the bank is being evacuated.

The bank is evacuated to the point where Estel and Rosa are the only hostages during this standoff. There are repetitive scenes where Brian shouts to anyone who’ll listen some variation of this threat: “I’m going to kill myself and everybody in here if my demands are not met!”

He also insists on having Estel and Rosa call as many media outlets as possible because he wants his “mission” to get as much publicity as possible. “Fraud was committed! My disability check was stolen from me, and I want it back!” Brian shouts. Rosa and Estel both try to appease Brian by telling him that they can give him as much money as he wants from the cash in the bank. However, he adamantly refuses to accept any money that isn’t directly from the VA.

Meanwhile, just like Brian wanted, there ends up being live media coverage of the standoff, especially after Brian gets on the phone for a live conversation with WSB-TV producer Lisa Larson (played by Connie Britton), who tries to give Brian the impression that she’s on his side and wants him to safely get him what he’s demanding. Brian goes back and forth in deciding whether he can trust Lisa or not. Even though his hostage plan/bomb threat might be foolish, he’s smart enough to know that Lisa’s main agenda is to get as much out of this story as she can as a TV producer.

While all of this chaos is happening, there’s a section of the movie where the authorities and Brian have trouble reaching his ex-wife Cassandra Brown-Easley (played by Olivia Washington), who is fast-asleep (she works the night shift and is exhausted) and not answering her phone. When she does find out what’s happening, she seems curiously and inexplicably emotionally detached, which could be interpreted as shock. Viewers will get the impression that when Cassandra first hears that Brian is responsible for this hostage crisis, her attitude is, “Well, he’s my ex-husband, so he’s not my problem.”

However, Cassandra seems to already think the worst possible outcome will happen. Whenever law enforcement contacts her about Brian during this crisis, her first question is usually: “Is he dead?” This movie presents Cassandra as an ex-wife who doesn’t have much information to divulge about Brian and why he would commit these crimes.

Cassandra does have a very heavy emotional moment later when the reality of the situation sinks in, but for some parts of the movie, she doesn’t act like a mother who’s too concerned about how this crisis will affect her daughter. For example, she lets Kiah watch the TV news to see what’s happening with the standoff. You don’t have to be a parent to know that it would be very traumatic for a child to watch this type of news coverage that could end with the child seeing a parent killed or arrested on TV.

Brian seems to know that even if he does get the money that he says is owed to him, getting arrested or killed are the only two realistic outcomes for him. He doesn’t seem all that concerned about having an escape plan, because he knows it would be pointless. And what about the two women who are being held hostage? Brian assures them: “If I die today, I die alone.”

The issue of race comes up occasionally during this hostage crisis—not as as an excuse or explanation, but to show that Brian is all too-aware that because he’s African American, he’s less likely to survive law enforcement’s reaction to what he’s doing. Shortly after Estel (who is African American) and Rosa (who is Afro-Latina) are taken hostage, Brian asks Estel if the bank has been robbed before. She says yes, and the robber was arrested. Brian says, “They didn’t kill him? He got to be white.”

Unlike most hostage takers, Brian insists on having a hostage negotiator. A small army of law enforcement is stationed outside and near the bank, including members of the Marietta Police Department, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. Some of them argue about who’s going to take the lead in the negotiations.

In the end, Eli Bernard (played by Michael Kenneth Williams), a sergeant with the Marietta PD, becomes the chief negotiator. Eli also happens to be an African American and a former Marine, just like Brian, so they bond over this shared identity. Eli often calls Brian “brother” and is the only one during the standoff who come closest to gaining Brian’s trust. (“892” is one of the last on-screen roles for Williams, who died of a drug overdose in 2021.)

The movie spends a lot of time trying to garner sympathy for Brian. And there’s no doubt that Boyega’s impactful performance is the main reason to watch “892.” However, all of this emphasis on Brian comes at the expense of sidelining the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters. Beharie shows some grit in her performance of Estel, who is more composed during this crisis than panic-stricken Rosa. However, Estel and Rosa are not shown as fully developed people. They’re just hostage victims who react to what Brian does and what he wants.

All the people outside of the bank are essentially the types of characters that have been in plenty of other hostage movies. Lisa is the ambitious and shrewd media person. Eli is the sympathetic “good cop.” And there’s the predictable “trigger happy” law enforcement officer Major Riddick (played by Jeffrey Donovan), who would rather have the hostage taker dead at the end of the ordeal instead of alive. The role of Major Riddick is quite generic and only in the movie so that Eli inevitably has someone to clash with over authority issues and negotiation tactics.

Even though the movie succeeds in keeping a suspenseful tone throughout, there are some inconsistencies in the storytelling. At one point in the movie, Brian is described as someone who’d never been in trouble with the law before, based on background checks that are done when he’s identified as the hostage taker. But then, there’s a flashback scene of Brian being handcuffed by police officers while he’s having a meltdown in a VA office because he can’t get his money.

Perhaps the movie’s biggest shortcoming is in how “892” avoids discussing mental health. Viewers won’t find out if Brian had a mental illness that was diagnosed or undiagnosed. And if he did have any mental illness, how long did he have it? Was he getting treatment for it? Those questions remain unanswered in the movie.

People can certainly speculate that as a war veteran, Brian might have had post-traumatic stress disorder. However, someone just doesn’t go into a bank and commit this type of horrifying act just because they want $892 from the government. Brian says he wants the media coverage to bring attention to the VA’s mistreatment of veterans, but it’s obviously illogical and wrong to try to get attention for this issue by holding innocent people hostage and threatening to blow up a building.

Details about Brian’s personal life are also not fully explained. Brian hints that he’s mainly responsible (or at least he blames himself) for his divorce from Cassandra, but the details over why they got divorced are never mentioned in the movie. Brian also says that he has an estranged brother, but his parents or other relatives aren’t even mentioned. Brian is obviously a loner, so he has no friends who can offer any insight. During this crisis, Cassandra is the only person in Brian’s family who is contacted.

All of this gives some skimpy background information that might explain why Brian felt he had no one that he could turn to for help. However, it doesn’t explain why Brian wasn’t thinking of his daughter when he committed an act that would result in Brian being taken away from her. It can be left up to interpretation that Brian subconsciously wanted a “suicide by cop” situation, but the movie doesn’t seem too interested in addressing mental health as a reason for why someone would do what Brian did. By leaving out these mental health issues, “892” could have come very close to portraying Brian as a negative and hollow stereotype of an “angry black man,” if not for Boyega’s nuanced performance.

“892” doesn’t frame Brian’s actions as a heroic “one man versus the system” story, but rather as a tragedy whose outcome probably would have been different if Brian had been white. There are moments in the movie where Brian seems to understand that his irreversible actions will cause a lot of emotional damage to his daughter Kiah. However, those moments are few and far in between, because the movie is mainly concerned about making Brian the person who should get the most sympathy in this tragedy. It’s debatable whether or not all of that sympathy is deserved.

Another shortcoming in “892” is how the movie has a trivial way of showing the traumas that Estel and Rosa have to deal with after the standoff is over. As a hostage thriller, “892” certainly delivers when it comes to creating tension-filled scenes. Some of the scenarios seem too contrived for a movie though, just for the sake of dragging out the story so that Brian can get more agitated and start yelling again. It’s the type of hostage film where the movie’s message is made very clear, but viewers still won’t know much about the hostage taker when the movie is over.

UPDATE: Bleecker Street will release “Breaking” (formerly titled “892”) in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022.

Review: ‘Naked Singularity,’ starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgård and Ed Skrein

August 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Olivia Cooke and John Boyega in “Naked Singularity” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Naked Singularity”

Directed by Chase Palmer

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the dramatic film “Naked Singularity” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An idealistic public defender, who gets involved with a female drug courier, has to decide if he’s going to help her or betray her by stealing one of her big drug hauls that’s worth a small fortune. 

Culture Audience: “Naked Singularity” will appeal primarily to people who like watching cliché and unrealistic heist flicks.

Ed Skrein and Olivia Cooke in “Naked Singularity” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Naked Singularity” is a perfect example of talented stars who are stuck in a terrible movie. All of the principal cast members have done much better work elsewhere. This heist movie, which could have been thrilling to watch, is instead mired in a permanent creative rut filled with outdated depictions of women.

There’s absolutely nothing original about “Naked Singularity,” except some mystical mumbo jumbo from a conspiracy-spouting nutcase—a supporting character in the movie—who rambles on about how singularity in the universe is the loss of physics. This crackpot theory serves as the basis for the title of this film, which was adapted from Sergio De La Pava’s 2008 novel “A Naked Singularity.” This award-winning book has been turned into a horrific mess of a movie.

“Naked Singularity” is the feature-film directorial debut of Chase Palmer. He co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with David Matthews, who has a background in television and also makes his feature-film debut with “Naked Singularity.” Palmer wrote the screenplay for the 2017 horror movie blockbuster “It,” which might explain why “It” star Bill Skarsgård (who played the evil clown Pennywise) was suckered into being in a flop like “Naked Singularity.”

The cast members actually do fairly good jobs in their roles. Too bad they have to spout some ridiculous lines and depict even more ludicrous situations. The first clue that this movie is going to be horrible is in the opening scene, which depicts a New York City courthouse that looks more like a jail or psychiatric institution. Belligerent criminals, one with his trousers down to expose his half-naked butt, get rowdy in the hallways and have to be subdued by security officers. Random people are yelling at each other. An attorney snorts cocaine in a bathroom.

Amid this chaos is idealistic public defender Casi (played by John Boyega), who’s in his mid-20s and in his first job out of law school. Casi (whose name is pronounced “Cassie”) wants to be a public defender because he thinks the system is rigged against disenfranchised people, and he wants to try to level the playing field. Viewers will soon see that Casi doesn’t level the playing field for his clients. He demolishes it because he’s such a terrible lawyer.

Even though Casi is the movie’s protagonist, don’t expect much of a backstory for him or any of the other characters in “Naked Singularity. ” Apparently, these people don’t have families or anything else going on in their lives besides work and the dumb heist that’s at the center of this movie’s flimsy plot. It’s an example of how hollow and boring these characters are.

Meanwhile, tough-talking and sarcastic Lea DeLeon (played by Olivia Cooke) works as a front-desk clerk at a tow pound. One day, a sleazy-looking guy comes up to her window and tries to flirt and sweet-talk his way into convincing Lea to let him drive one of the impounded cars off of the parking lot. His story is that he’s there to pick up the car for a friend, whom he says is unavailable.

Lea doesn’t fall for this obvious lie, because this guy doesn’t have a notarized statement from the so-called “friend.” Lea casually dismisses this con artist, and he reluctantly walks away. But judging from how Lea looks at him, it’s easy to see she thinks he’s kind of cute, in a way that seems to say, “I know he’s up to no good, but I’d sleep with him anyway.” Lea looks like the type to go for “bad boys.”

And sure enough, not long after meeting this liar, Lea (who’s single and lives alone) is swiping through a dating app on her phone, when she sees him. She finds out his name is Craig (played by Ed Skrein) and he’s very single and available. The next thing you know, Lea and Craig are having sex at her place.

The next morning, Lea is about to send Craig on his way because she sees him as just a one-night stand. But you don’t have to be a psychic to know that this loser, who tried to con Lea the first time that he met her, is still going to try to find a way to get the car that he wants. He won’t leave Lea’s apartment, he starts making threats, and she ends up pulling a gun on him.

Viewers later find out why he wants the car. It’s for the most obvious reason possible when it’s revealed that a Mexican drug cartel wants the car too. There’s a stash of heroin hidden in the car. And it’s supposedly worth on the low end of several million dollars.

It’s not shown in the movie, but Lea eventually did agree to help Craig, but she got busted at work for it. Not only did she get fired, but her boss had her arrested. And that’s how Lea ends up as Casi’s client. Lea and Casi have met each other before, although the circumstances under which they met are a little vague. It has to do with her previous criminal record, which is never explained in the movie, but whatever she did was serious enough for her to spend time in prison, because she’s on parole.

Even though Casi and Lea have met before, this is the first time that Casi has become Lea’s attorney. She admits to him that Craig offered $100,000 to Lea get the heroin that’s stashed in the car. The car and the heroin are still at the tow pound.

Casi soon finds out that being Lea’s attorney is going to be a lot more complicated than he thought it would be. She tells him that her life is in danger from Craig unless she can get the heroin. Craig wants to sell the heroin to a drug lord called the Golem (played by Kyle Mooney), an Orthodox Jew who leads a criminal gang of other Orthodox Jews. Yes, this movie is that bad.

Casi wants nothing to do with this drug deal at first, but there would be no “Naked Singularity” movie if he stayed clear of Lea’s messy problems. After Casi gets suspended from his job for six months for breaching courtroom protocol, his corrupt co-worker Dane (played by Skarsgård), the attorney seen snorting cocaine in the movie’s opening scene, convinces Carl that maybe the two of them should try to steal the heroin for themselves. Don’t forget the Mexican drug cartel, because they want that heroin stash too. Meanwhile, a narcotics cop named Detective Winston (played by Robert Christopher Riley) is hot on the trail and wants to bust this drug cartel.

“Naked Singularity” has a subplot of the antagonistic courtroom relationship that Casi has with the stern Judge Cymbeline (played by Linda Lavin), who is apparently the only judge in New York’s criminal court system, since she’s the only judge whom Casi is seen interacting with every time he has a case. Casi, like an idiot, mouths off and is rude to the judge, which leads to the judge filing the formal complaint that gets him suspended. The movie tries to make it look like Judge Cymbeline could be racist, but anyone with common sense can see that Casi is his own worst enemy in the courtroom. He’s woefully incompetent at his job.

Who does Casi have in his life to turn to for advice? An eccentric and scruffy loner named Angus (played by Tim Blake Nelson), who spouts a lot of what he thinks is deep philosophical thoughts but it’s really nonsensical crap. Angus is the one who imparts his “singularity” theory on Casi. Angus also has a samurai sword that Casi ends up taking, because you know that sword is going to be used at some point during the inevitable fight with the drug dealers.

It should come as no surprise that Casi and Lea end up sleeping together. It happens after he’s suspended and can no longer be her attorney. It’s an example of how Lea, who’s supposedly “street smart,” is still treated as a not-very-smart sex object by the filmmakers. Needless to say, the filmmakers have Lea usually dressed in some type of revealing clothing.

Lea made the dumb decision to invite Craig over to her place, knowing he was some kind of criminal who wanted to illegally get that car from the tow pound. Did she think that Craig would forget about that, just because she slept with him? Apparently so. But it just set her up as an easy target for him to threaten.

However, later in the story, this movie inexplicably has Lea threaten Craig, by demanding that he give her $1 million so that she will give up her criminal lifestyle and go away. Does that make any sense? Of course it doesn’t, because this is an idiotic movie. By the way, Lea’s $1 million demand isn’t blackmail, because whatever incriminating information she has on Craig, she’s involved in those same crimes. And remember, she’s on parole.

Throughout “Naked Singularity,” there’s a countdown to what this movie calls “the collapse,” which might lead people to believe that Casi or someone else in the story might be headed toward some kind of mental breakdown. “Naked Singularity” is too shallow for that. It’s just a dumber-than-average heist movie, with predictable double crosses and violence.

Although all of the principal characters in this movie are American, the principal stars of the movie all come from other countries. Boyega, Cooke and Skrein are British, while Skarsgård is Swedish. Their American accents vary from convincing and consistent (Cooke) to average (Boyega and Skarsgård) to a little shaky (Skrein). Boyega adopts a nerdy Midwestern American accent, even though the movie gives the impression that Casi grew up in New York City. However, viewers will never find out what Casi’s background is because “Naked Singularity” is such a poorly written movie.

“Naked Singularity” is one of those “let’s try to outsmart the gangsters” movies written and directed men, who give male actors the most prominent roles and have one token female (almost always young and attractive) who gets to tag along for the ride. In these “boys club” movies with top billing going to several men and one token woman, older women have much smaller roles, usually as nurturing maternal types (which doesn’t apply to this movie’s characters) or as hard-nosed battle-axes, like Judge Cymbeline. Casi has an older female boss named Liszt (played by Liza Colón-Zayas), another “battle-axe” type, and she gets less than five minutes of screen time. All the other female characters in this movie are just extras, almost all of whom have no names and don’t speak.

Women and girls are 51% of the population in the United States and in the world. Therefore, it’s really moronic how certain filmmakers, such as the people who made “Naked Singularity,” continue to peddle these narrow-minded, outdated and inaccurate views of women as a minority who only exist for men to fight with, have sex with, or do dirty deals with so the men can get rich. That’s how women are portrayed in this garbage movie. And yes, Lea could get a cut of the deal that’s at stake, but the men get more money out of it overall, so the men still come out on top.

“Naked Singularity” starts out trying to be a message movie about bucking the legal system as an underdog. But it ends up going into a lazy and uninteresting downward spiral of being a doltish heist movie that looks as phony as a counterfeit bill. Luckily for the stars of “Naked Singularity,” their talent will land them in better projects, and this embarrassing dud will be a forgettable footnote in their careers.

Screen Media Films released “Naked Singularity” in select U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021, and on digital an VOD on August 13, 2021. The movie’s release on Blu-ray and DVD is on October 5, 2021.

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