Aimless Chaos Walking a Lifeless Sci-Fi Adventure
Based on the best-selling novel The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, it’s hard to imagine a more forgettable piece of sci-fi hooey than Chaos Walking. Featuring a stellar all-star cast and directed by notoriously hit-or-miss action maestro Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), this still ends up being nothing more than what I like to call a “prequel to a sequel we’ll never see.” This movie isn’t very good, and the only thing notable about it is just how much extraordinary talent was wasted giving it life.
The year is 2257. On a remote Earth-like planet, a small group of human transplants live in relative peace. All the men have to deal with an affliction dubbed “The Noise,” a hazy visual flurry of sounds that forces their innermost thoughts out into the open for all to see. Women are seemingly immune, which would be terrific for them save one small problem – there are no women.
Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) has lived his entire life with only vague memories of his mother. An orphan, he lives on a farm with Ben (Demián Bichir) and Cillian (Kurt Sutter), the two men raising him as if he were their own son. Todd is also fascinated with his community’s confident leader, Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen), hoping that one day he’ll be able to focus, control and utilize his Noise in the same way this man can.
The film’s plot kicks into overdrive with the arrival of Viola (Daisy Ridley). She’s the lone survivor of a group of astronauts sent out by their mothership to see how things are going on this new world. It quickly becomes clear to Todd that Prentiss isn’t the strong benevolent leader he pretends to be, and he wants to use Viola to become even more powerful. Additionally, the young man also learns their community is not the only township on the planet and that a terrible secret has been kept from him, making him question everything he thought he knew about those he loved the most.
What is there to say? The screenplay crafted by the book’s author Ness and co-written with Christopher Ford (Cop Car) is an unfocused mess, never able to have all its various ideas coalesce in any sort of meaningful, let alone interesting, way. The mechanics of The Noise are vague and imprecise. The overall makeup of this new world and its various inhabitants is hazily developed. Characters are introduced and dispensed with at random intervals and in obnoxiously coincidental fashion.
It all looks great. Ben Seresin’s (World War Z) cinematography, Dan Weil’s (American Made) production design and Kate Hawley’s (Crimson Peak) particularly noteworthy. Liman also offers up a handful of solid action set pieces, most notably Viola and Todd’s frenetic escape from Ben and Cillian’s farm with Prentiss and his posse hot on their tail. It’s a competent production from a technical standpoint all the way through, nothing about what they do so disastrous I could foresee them removing it from their respective resumes as if it never existed.
But as far as compliments go that’s pretty much the full extent of what I’ve got. Ridley and Holland are fine young actors, and neither of them gives a bad performance. But they also have zero chemistry, Todd and Viola’s growing connection to one another about as authentic as a 57-cent coin. Yet they still fair better than most of the stacked cast, Sutter, Nick Jonas, Ray McKinnon, David Oyelowo and Cynthia Erivo all so underutilized it’s somewhat hard to comprehend why they signed on to appear in this in the first place.
I think the element that annoyed me the most had everything to do with the key plot element that initiates all that happens throughout the film. This Noise, only precious few seem to be able to control and quell it with any consistency, and even then they still seem to inadvertently reveal hidden secrets and truths without meaning to. Yet, the core mystery, the one thing no one wants any of the youngest amongst them to know, the hideous truth that keeps their community isolated, not one person ever let that cat out of the bag via their Noise?
This feels like a minor problem. But it isn’t. Everything that happens revolves around an entire community of men keeping this secret from the few teenagers who live amongst them. That this lie could be maintained for so many years isn’t believable, and because this element feels false, so does practically everything else that happens throughout the remainder of the story. One small thing has catastrophic effects as far as the greater whole is concerned, and I can’t comprehend how this item was either missed during preproduction or intentionally glossed over when editor Doc Crotzer delivered the final cut for Liman and the studio’s review.
Could I go on? Certainly, but I don’t see the point. Liman can be a good director when he’s given solid material to work with. However, I think at this point, and after the likes of Locked Down, Jumper and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, when given a subpar script he’s not the one who is going to elevate the finished film to a point anywhere beyond barely passible. That’s the case here, Chaos Walking an aimless misfire that leaves the majority involved with its making stranded in a barren desert of vexing tedium none can escape from entirely unscathed.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)