NEW YORK. “If you could read my mind, love/What a tale my thoughts could tell.” So mused Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in a hit song from a half-century ago.
The downside of such a situation bedevils the hero of the dull dystopian science fiction drama “Chaos Walking” (PG-13, Lionsgate). He inhabits a world where men’s thoughts — though not women’s — take audible and sometimes visible form, and thus can only be concealed with great difficulty. While that proves troubling for him and those around him, the effect on the film’s audience is nothing short of torturous.
Inherited from the movie’s source material, Patrick Ness’ 2008 young adult novel “The Knife of Never Letting Go” — the first in a trilogy of books from the overall title of which director Doug Liman’s screen version takes its name — the conceit may, perhaps, have worked on paper.
Translated to a visual medium, however, it ends up enveloping the heads of male characters in a floating miasma that somehow recalls the representation of body odor in an antiperspirant commercial — or bad breath in an ad for mouthwash. The burden of incessant, rapid-fire chatter it imposes on the ears of the audience is even more unpleasant.
That makes it difficult to care much what befalls said hero, teenager Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland). It’s the year 2257 and Todd dwells on New World, a planet colonized by humans. All the women of the colony having been killed off in a war with the orb’s monstrous natives, Todd has been raised by two father figures, Ben (Demian Bichir) and Cillian (Kurt Sutter), the proprietors of a beet farm.
Todd’s routine among the red roots is interrupted by the advent of Viola (Daisy Ridley), an astronaut whose vessel has just crash-landed, killing everyone else on board. She was part of a small landing party meant to prepare the way for a long-delayed second wave of immigrants.
For reasons of his own, David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen), the dictatorial mayor of Todd’s community, wants to prevent these new arrivals from making his domain their home. So he lays a trap for them. Overhearing his scheme, Viola sets out, accompanied by Todd, in search of a communications device that will enable her to warn her still-airborne comrades of what awaits them.
Along the way, revelations emerge about the real fate of the original female settlers. And Todd’s awkward adolescent reactions to Viola’s presence are laid bare. These, it develops, are a mixed bag.
Having never, presumably, been exposed to the infinite quagmire of online pornography, Todd’s romantic aspirations extend no further than a kiss. Never having interacted with a real-life lady before, on the other hand, he has no sense of modesty. Thus, when the time comes to wrestle and kill a large eel with an eye to eating it, Todd nonchalantly strips down in full view of Viola before diving into the water.
Despite this momentary display of exhibitionism in the guise of Adamite innocence, the script, penned by Ness and Christopher Ford, keeps the central relationship chaste. Beyond that, though, “Chaos Walking” has little enough to recommend it. Todd’s excessive fondness for a four-letter term for excrement, moreover — taken together with his skinny dip — prevents endorsement for his peers back on Earth.
Contributing to the overall dissonance is the figure of Aaron (David Oyelowo), a loony preacher who, with no congregation left to harangue, incoherently spouts biblical-sounding rhetoric to all and sundry, none of whom want to hear it. His intermittent presence will prove an added irritant to viewers of faith.
The film contains considerable stylized violence with brief gore, a glimpse of rear male nudity in a nonsexual context, about a half-dozen mild oaths, a single rough term as well as pervasive crude and some crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III —adults.