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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.20.14] United Kingdom scifi action

Noel Clarke directs and stars in this high-kicking sci-fi about an amnesiac former soldier who blips into consciousness for short periods of time, before passing out and reawakening weeks later in new and increasingly bizarre situations. Finding himself existing as a unit of consciousness which emerges for only 9 minutes per fortnight, Ryan Reeves has to piece together clues he finds during each waking state, and in doing so discovers that whoever he is when he is not himself, may not be a very nice guy.

The Anomaly is a fairly slick and energetic film with a few good things going for it, chief among them some entertaining action scenes, a brisk pace and a great central concept. There's something fun about watching a character in a movie trying to solve a mystery, and when we discover clues along with them it gets us pretty involved. Clarke plays Ryan as a straightforwardly likable guy, trying to figure out his situation and, when possible, making allies with the people he interacts with during each cycle of consciousness. With only 9 minutes for each 'episode', before shifting forward another week or two, things barrel along pretty quickly and we never know where we'll end up next. During its best moments the film resembles an updated 'Quantum Leap' with elements of Source Code (review) and The Adjustment Bureau (review) - only with martial arts fight scenes taken from Equilibrium. Being set some time in the near future, the tech on display is pretty standard sci-fi movie stuff: transparent mobile phones, interactive holograms, DNA coded laser guns and the ever looming threat of biological warfare making up part of the larger plot-line.

If all of this sounds pretty awesome then it's worth noting that The Anomaly also suffers from several problems which cannot be overlooked. Writing the names of those other sci-fi stories above, I realise that each one is actually better than The Anomaly (yes, even Equilibrium), which at times feels like it's been designed to play on television rather than a cinema screen. Many of the effects are pretty substandard, with the occasional awkwardly placed CG skyscraper or zeppelin plonked in the background to convince us that we're looking at London of the future. The fight scenes, while well coordinated, are highly derivative and repetitive, aping Zack Snyder's favourite technique of slowing things down and then speeding them up for impact. Ian Somerhalder plays the shady antagonist and chews the scenery whenever possible, and while I actually appreciated his slightly exaggerated and villainous performance, it does steer the film into the realms of camp. For anyone interested in Brian Cox's role in the film, his appearances are so brief that they amount to a small cameo, and one wonders why they bothered casting him, except of course for the prestige which comes with having his name on the poster.

While Noel Clarke's direction is surprisingly confident and assured, the set design would look more fitting in an episode of Dr. Who or Star Trek than what appears to be multi-million pound feature film, and the script is similarly televisual in its mentality, seeking merely to tell the story in an efficient way rather than provide any sense of characterisation or carry some kind of intelligent message. Something about terrorists being bad and crooked homeland security guys also being bad gets lost along the way, and we're left with a fairly standard plot involving biological weapons and a big evil corporation bent of world destruction (yawn). By casting himself in the lead role and making sure he gets the chance to play an ass-kicking hero, one wonders to what extent this is a bit of a fanboy vanity project for Clarke, whose directing work up to this point has tended to focus on gritty, low-budget indie affairs. He's a decent leading man, but would be wise to choose his future projects a little more carefully.

I should stress that while I was watching The Anomaly I was genuinely entertained. I had already seen a couple of films that afternoon and was refreshed by its momentum and sense of fun. However, if I had paid £10 to see this at the cinema I would probably feel slightly cheated. It's something to watch on VOD on a rainy Sunday, but not the kind of thing you ought to fork out serious money for.

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