If you’ve been searching for the next “Hunger Games,” keep looking. “Chaos Walking” is not it. Adapted from the YA novel “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by author Patrick Hess, the film directed by Doug Liman features a stellar cast that includes a wasted Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland doing the best he can with the material, and Mads Mikkelsen who attempts to save the sci-fi/western hybrid. The concept is fascinating, the execution flawed.
Charlie Kaufman wrote the first draft of the screenplay a decade ago. He left the project and director Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”) entered the picture five years later. The film’s delayed release was partly due to reshoots helmed by director Fede Álvarez (“Don’t Breathe”). The film finally arrives in theaters and IMAX screens this weekend, but fans of the novels will probably be disappointed with the transition to the big screen.
After tackling more mature roles in “The Devil All the Time” and “Cherry,” actor Tom Holland returns to his insecure, paranoid, Peter Parker persona as Todd Hewitt, the protagonist of this futuristic dystopian thriller that takes place in 2257 A.D. on a planet named the New World. He’s considerably older than the 13-year-old version of the character in the Hess novel but with Holland in the role consider that an upgrade.
All the women have disappeared, and the men are affected by a force known as The Noise where they can hear each other’s thoughts. In the film, it’s displayed as a colorful vaporous cloud sometimes accompanied by images of the person’s thoughts. The concept is fascinating but after half an hour it soon wears out its welcome.
Todd’s been told that his mother and the rest of the women were killed by the planet’s native inhabitants The Spackle, a black alien species that looks menacing but unfortunately is reduced down to a cameo appearance. Most of the days, Todd spends his time working the beet farm with his adoptive parents played by Demián Bichir and Kurt Sutter when he’s not at the nearby colony Prentisstown named after Mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen, the film’s biggest attribute) who runs the town with the help of his cocky son Davy played by musician Nick Jonas.
Daisy Ridley plays Viola, the sole survivor of a spacecraft that crash lands on New World. She’s discovered in the woods by Todd who’s never seen a girl before and so his Noise goes berserk with rapid-fire comments “It’s a girl,” “Oh my God it’s a girl!” Viola is stunned that she can see and hear his thoughts but maybe not as much as Todd who can’t see or hear hers. The Noise as it turns out only affects the men which drove the male residents of New World crazy. A flashback scene reveals the frontier outpost’s dark secret halfway through the film.
When the Mayor discovers Viola’s arrival, he wants her killed so the film becomes a race against time as Todd helps Viola find a way to contact her mothership before the Mayor and his henchman catch up to the runaway fugitives.
New World looks basically like Earth, but with a little imagination you can pretend it’s Endor as Rey, I mean Viola, and Todd race through the woods to get to the shield generator complex, I mean a colony that may have the technology to contact Viola’s crew in space, before Mads the Mayor and Nick Jonas catch them and the burst into song with “What a Man Gotta Do.”
“Chaos Walking” features a terrific cast with Mikkelsen being the best part of the sci-fi/western. A movie is only as good as its villain and the Danish Hannibal Lecter is top-notch as the menacing Mayor. The Noise is the most fascinating part of the story and while nobody wants other people to hear their thoughts 24/7 the men have found a way to somewhat control it. The Mayor controls his thoughts like a Zen master by repeating the mantra “I am the circle: the circle is me,” which works great. Todd being a teenager can’t control his Noise, but he attempts it by repeating his name over and over again and it soon becomes irritating.
The rest of the cast including star Daisy Ridley is underused. She plays a strong character who is reduced to a frightened young girl with a drab personality. Demián Bichir appears in sunglasses and a hat through most of the movie so you can’t even tell it’s him while Nick Jonas just rides around on a horse taking orders from his daddy Mayor, a few bars of “Jealous” would have gone a long way, “I mean no disrespect, it’s my right to be hellish, I still get jealous.”
Cynthia Erivo is wasted here, reduced to a cameo. She’s such a good actress and the film could have benefitted from more Erivo screen time and then there’s the wonderful David Oyelowo as a fire-and-brimstone fanatic preacher who is so bat-shiz crazy that his character should have played a bigger role in the film.
Terrific cast, a great concept, but a flawed execution that turns out to be a bunch of noise.
(2 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters and on IMAX screens