'Chaos Walking' takes viewers on strange -- and annoying -- journey

  • A telepathic young man (Tom Holland), whose thoughts are projected around his head, guides a woman (Daisy Ridley) to safety in "Chaos Walking."

    A telepathic young man (Tom Holland), whose thoughts are projected around his head, guides a woman (Daisy Ridley) to safety in "Chaos Walking." Courtesy of Lionsgate

 
 
Posted3/4/2021 6:00 AM

"Chaos Walking" -- ★

The science fiction tale "Chaos Walking" takes place in 2257 on a planet called New World, where transplanted earthling males have been gifted -- or cursed -- with the "Noise," the ability to project their thoughts, both verbal and visual, onto Technicolor clouds surrounding their heads like vaporous movie screens.

 

Whenever the men come close to each other, the Noise creates an overload of colliding thoughts and images unfiltered by social propriety or privacy concerns, forcing them to suppress thinking -- about anything.

I suspect that on the printed page, this uncontrollable telepathic connection in Patrick Ness' best-seller "The Knife of Never Letting Go" -- the basis for this movie -- comes off as a captivating literary device, where here, in the more literal medium of motion pictures, it alternates between annoying repetition and comical incredulity.

If Stanley Kubrick had directed this film, based on the first book in Ness' "Chaos Walking" trilogy, he might have opted to do what he did with "Dr. Strangelove" -- convert an originally serious literary work into a riotous black comedy.

Some parts of "Chaos Walking" reminded me of a vintage Mad magazine comic strip showing what people say to each other, but separate "thought" balloons revealed what they are really thinking.

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Here, director Doug Liman -- who gave us the iconic thriller "The Bourne Identity" and the time-loopy "Edge of Tomorrow" -- plays everything as straight as a laser beam, to diminishing effect.

Young Todd Hewitt (erstwhile "Spider-Man" star Tom Holland) lives on a farm with two men who protect him, Ben and Cillian (Demian Birchir and Kurt Sutter). Ben is his dad.

They are part of an all-male community lorded over by Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen), the ruthless, iron-willed mayor of Prentisstown.

As we discover from Prentiss, the women have all been killed by the rarely seen indigenous creatures called the "Spackle," resembling a mashup of the Predator and the Walking Dead.

Todd (Tom Holland) lives in an all-male community in "Chaos Walking."
Todd (Tom Holland) lives in an all-male community in "Chaos Walking." - Courtesy of Murray Close
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The plot kicks into play when "Star Wars" star Daisy Ridley drops in as Viola, the only surviving crew member of a crashed spaceship sent from Earth to check on the New World colony.

Normally, you'd think the female-starved men might generate some real Noise totally unsuitable for a PG-13 movie.

No, they are oddly devoid of sexual thoughts or desires. Why?

When it appears that Prentiss perceives Viola as a threat to his colony, Todd vows to take her to a place of reported safety called Farbranch. If he can only keep his thoughts to himself.

Liman's movie takes some liberties with its source material, skewing the story to be a disturbing cautionary tale about the dangers of following messianic cult figures, hinted at by Aaron (played by an underutilized David Oyelowo), a fiery, mysterious preacher given to cryptic utterances, such as "I am the sinner! Purify me!"

As expected, Liman keeps the action moving at a serviceable momentum, but his characters run low on solid emotional connections between each other and us.

It doesn't help that we hear Todd constantly thinking to himself, "I am Todd Hewitt! Todd Hewitt!" to block a flood of embarrassing or problematic thoughts.

In quick order, Todd's rapid-fire mental spewing begins to sound like Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man" -- "Be a man! Be a man! Stop it! Stop it! They lied to me! They lied to me!"

I still say that "Chaos Walking" would have made a better comedy.

It had me at "Spackle."

• • •

Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, David Oyelowo

Directed by: Doug Liman

Other: A Lionsgate Entertainment release. In theaters. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. 109 minutes

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