XXX "Naked," with David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Greg Cruttwell. Directed and written by Mike Leigh. Broadway Market Cinemas. No rating; includes nudity, rough language, violence. -------------------------------------------------------------------
Johnny, the apocalyptic British motor mouth at the center of Mike Leigh's "Naked," could become a postpunk prophet for the 1990s. He's mad as hell, he's not going to take it anymore, and he's astonishingly eloquent about the basis for his fury.
Even though the character is fictional and much of what he says is bunk, Johnny has vitality and complexity. He's the kind of driven, contemptuous troublemaker everyone has known at some time - and usually regretted knowing. He's hard to like, hard to ignore and a relief to escape.
He also makes a dizzying kind of sense, especially to anyone who's convinced that we're headed for the kinds of end-of-civilization disasters that Johnny (and his own favorite doomsday prophet Nostradamus) foresee as the millennium approaches.
As "Naked" begins, the 27-year-old Johnny is having rough sex in a Manchester alley with a woman who may or may not be willing. That could summarize his relationship with women in general, as he proves when he looks up a semireluctant old girlfriend in London, establishes unhappy relations with her roommate, abuses a seductive stranger and picks up a waitress.
Thanks to David Thewlis' performance, which has been collecting prizes since last spring's Cannes Film Festival, Johnny's energy and ferocious wit outweigh his brutishness. A few of his monologues are so intricately designed that they make the purest nonsense sound logical, and Thewlis always makes it appear as if he came up with them. The way Leigh works - creating the script in rehearsals, then filming the improvisations - he probably did.
Particularly memorable are Johnny's first meeting with his aggressively bored ex-girlfriend and his riveting debate with a philosophical security guard who invites him in for an after-hours talk. It's conceivable that some of these speeches will be committed to memory by midnight-movie fans who will be reciting them along with Johnny, "Rocky Horror"-style, as the next century gets closer.
Although Thewlis is on-screen in every scene, this isn't just a one-man show. As the wry ex-girlfriend, Lesley Sharp is almost Johnny's match. Peter Wight is remarkable as the night watchman, and Ewen Bremner and Susan Vidler provide necessary comic relief as a pair of lost young Scottish rebels without a cause.
At 126 minutes, "Naked" eventually wears out its welcome. It has far too much of everything: street crazies, random seductions, ugly in-your-face images, misogynistic verbal abuse, and especially an absurdly decadent yuppie landlord (Greg Crutwell) who looks like Dirk Bogarde, lounges around in a black bikini and is apparently supposed to function as some kind of metaphor for dying Thatcherism.
The movie even has too much of Johnny. But then that's the nature of a fascinating nuisance.