Doug Liman’s long-shelved futuristic dystopia romance certainly lives up to it’s title; this is Chaos Walking, from beginning to end, an incoherent, lavishly expensive, utterly confused farrago that boils up a few good ideas into a soup of insanity. Chaos Walking should have been an easy follow-up to the Hunger Games and various teen-fantasies of defying authoritarian futures, but instead leaves a slab of expensive celluloid behind that should be left to demonstrate to future generations how $100 million dollars can be pointlessly wasted.
Storywise, it’s not easy to get your head around, but here’s what I got. Tom Holland is Todd, ‘in the near distant future’ says the press notes, that’s actually 2577, I think, so not that near IMHO. Tom is afflicted by The Noise, a condition by which his thoughts are visually manifested to the other people in the film, and us, the audience as smudgy oil-paintings in the air. Todd is one of the Men of the New World, but the Men of the New World have no Women of the New World because of some previous war, so it’s big news for noisy boys when a spaceship lands and Viola (Daisy Ridley) pops out. It’s hard to know where Viola is from, since she dresses like LeeLoo Multipass and her accents and demeanour suggest she’s recently graduated from a Hampstead private finishing school for girls. Viola doesn’t want to be captured by the Men of the New World and legs it offski on a super-space motorcycle. Inviting her to come on and feel the Noise, Todd gives chase on horse-back and the two of them spark up a fugitive romance that threatens to change the very future of the dystopian blah-blah-blah…
There’s a reason why this project has been on the shelf for several years after disastrous reshoots, test screenings, re-writes and everything that can possibly go wrong with a film. It’s a space-Western of a revisionist kind, like Heaven’s Gate with ray-guns and a central conceit that’s hard to explain or enjoy; what does it add, other than shonky effects, that everyone can see and hear each other’s thoughts? Pretty much every writer in Hollywood, from Charlie Kaufman to John Lee Hancock, has a crack at rewriting this shambles, and it shows; Chaos Walking is an utter mess, too silly for adults, too dry and weird for kids. Tom’s horse gets killed, and his dog gets drowned, and you should know both of these off-putting things before you start.
This is based on a YA book, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and joins the Divergent incomplete fiasco, I Am Number One, Beautiful Creatures, The Vampires Apprentice and the huge, growing pile of other busted franchise openers; even with ridiculously accomplished support from David Oyelowo, Mads Mikkelsen dressed as Doris Day in Calamity Jane and why not throw in a random Jonas brother in the form of Nick, this is a compellingly unwatchable turkey, and the first complete disaster from Liman, a usually reliable pair of hands with big films from Cruise, Pitt and the first Bourne movie under his belt. But there’s nothing anyone can do to salvage this drippy sci-fi rubble, worth a look for ironists and pranksters only; initial release price of £15.99 quite hefty for this.