Based on a Swedish film that itself was branded a shameless rip-off of Groundhog Day, Michael Tiddes’s Neflix production Naked feels stiflingly plastic-wrapped and freeze-dried—an example of an elevator pitch literally becoming an elevator pitch. Beyond being retrograde, it’s anachronistic in the context of its distribution format. If streaming services offer the opportunity for filmmakers to explore their own freaky muses free from the expectations of mass crossover appeal, why does everyone here feel like they’re stuck on an assembly line? Sure, it’s a thematic mirror of the main character’s plight, but that only makes the audience’s journey toward the final credits feel as interminable as the main character’s struggle to break his time loop.
Rob Anderson (Marlon Wayans) is a part-time English teacher at a swank prep school, asking his students to choose between The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies because he knows his students are far more likely to identify with the highly entitled form of rebellion of Holden Caufield than admit to wanting to kill Piggy, and loves throwing Lord of the Flies‘s island survivalism back in their faces. And yet, he doesn’t have a thing in his life in order other than the fact that he’s heading to the altar with Megan Swope (Regina Hall), a successful pediatric doctor with a formidable business-mogul father, Reginald (Dennis Haysbert), who, needless to say, looks at Rob like something sticking to the bottom of his shoe. Megan heads out for a day-before-the-wedding bachelorette party, and Rob and his best man head out for a quick nightcap. Then Rob wakes up naked on the floor of an elevator.
Right from the very beginning of Rob’s cruel cycle that sees him repeatedly returning to the floor of that elevator every time the church bells at his wedding begin to ring, Naked besmirches the reasons that Groundhog Day‘s Möbius-strip construction worked. The 1993 film laid a trap out of mundanity, not extraordinary circumstances, highlighting the silently crippling weirdness of modern life’s patterns. Or, if you’re particularly high on Groundhog Day writer-director Harold Ramis’s intentions, it represents the spiritual journey toward the ultimate goal of self-transcendence in the Buddhist sense. Naked, on the other hand, doesn’t suggest purgatory so much as hell, with Rob being punished by the universe and being forced to decipher the reason why.
Actually, it’s not even that abstract. It’s rapidly clear that Rob needs to solve a mystery—how did he end up naked on the floor of an elevator?—in order to stop ending, as per the unofficial theme song from special guest star Brian McKnight, “Back at One.” And so, in contrast to Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, Rob isn’t tasked to become a better version of himself. He’s challenged to be the person his fiancé and father want him to be, and the universe itself won’t let him explore the very real possibility that he may simply be in the wrong relationship. Then again, in a world in which McKnight is the supreme muse, who are we mere mortals to question the vagaries of true love?