‘Chaos Walking’: When everyone’s thoughts can be heard by everyone, it’s a pain in the ears
Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley and other fine actors drown in the unbearable premise of this sci-fi irritant.
Please make it stop.
We’re just a few minutes into the misguided, nails-on-chalkboard dystopian thriller “Chaos Walking” when we start thinking: If they were showing this movie on a plane, I’d be looking for a parachute. It’s that irritating, that off-putting. You know that feeling you get when you’re on a Zoom chat and everyone is talking at once and you can’t really understand what anyone is saying and you just want to hit the mute button on the entire group?
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Doug Liman and written by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford, based on Ness’ book “The Knife of Never Letting Go.” Rated PG-13 (for violence and language). Running time: 108 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.
That’s what it’s like watching “Chaos Walking.”
Despite the considerable talents of director Doug Liman (“Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) and cast members Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Nick Jonas and Cynthia Erivo, this adaptation of the young adult science fiction novel “The Knife of Never Letting Go” (the first in a trilogy) is sunk by the nearly unwatchable and unlistenable execution of the main premise. The story is set on an Earth-like planet populated by men who are all plagued by the Noise, which means every thought expressed is accompanied by a weird little puff of smoke emanating from one’s head and can be heard by everyone else. So, as Tom Holland’s Todd Hewitt goes about his daily rituals of doing chores on a farm or heading into town to get supplies — a town populated ONLY by men — we can hear the (often inane) thoughts popping into his head, as well as the musings of the other men. Yikes.
Some men are better at controlling the Noise than others. Mads Mikkelsen’s scar-faced, menacing, all-powerful Mayor Prentiss has become the mayor because he has trained himself to harness the Noise, often making it impossible for the others to know what he’s thinking. But for virtually everyone else in the village of Prentisstown, every profound or stupid or meandering thing that crosses your mind can be heard by everyone else — and it’s just as annoying to the viewer as it is to everyone onscreen.
What happened to the women in this community? They were all murdered, and as the dark legend goes, the killers were the native inhabitants of this New World — strange, humanoid/lizard, Creature from the Black Lagoon-looking beings known as Spackle. That story seems a little fishy, but we’ll see. In the meantime, a spaceship has just crash-landed on the planet, and the sole survivor is Daisy Ridley’s Viola, a woman without Noise (meaning the men can’t hear what she’s thinking) who is perceived as an immediate threat by the mayor and his minions because they’re idiots. For the younger men of the village such as Todd, who were infants or toddlers when the women (including Todd’s mother) were slaughtered, this is the first time they’ve ever seen a female. For poor Viola, she finds herself pursued like a fugitive by a bunch of men whose every thought she can hear.
Todd develops an instant crush on Viola, which means she (and we) can hear his horny ramblings about how much he digs her yellow hair and how he wants to kiss her. He helps Viola escape the village and they set out for Farbranch, a remote and peaceful settlement populated by men, women and children, how about that! Cynthia Erivo’s Hildy Black, the leader of the community, welcomes Todd and Viola with open arms, but they’re still in danger because Mayor Prentiss and a posse are hot on their trail. It’s a race against time, with Viola desperately trying to contact the mothership in her fleet for a rescue, Todd desperately trying to control his hormonal thoughts about Viola and this viewer desperately trying to drum up interest in any of this.
So many fine actors are lost in the murky shuffle of this dopey story, including Demian Bichir as a father figure for Todd who has deceived Todd his entire life; Nick Jonas as the mayor’s whiny, no-good son, and David Oyelowo as a priest driven mad by the sins of the past. In addition to hearing/seeing thought bubbles from various characters, their memories are represented by holographic-type visuals. At one point, someone is mourning their recently deceased dog, and we see a holograph of the dog twirling around and barking, I kid you not. It’s one of the creepier dead-dog moments in movie history.
“Chaos Walking” has been in development for nearly a decade, with a number of prominent screenwriters reportedly taking a whack at a script over the years. Of course, it’s not all that unusual for a film, even some great films, to go through a long and winding process and many script iterations before finally going into production. Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes you get “Chaos Walking.”