Noel Clarke must be one of the busiest men currently working in British cinema. If his time isn’t taken up working on his own projects, he’s appearing in blockbusters or hit television shows. His actor-turned-film-maker story is inspiring and his ambition is admirable. In his third feature in the director’s chair, he steps out of his grimy comfort zone for sci-fi action thriller ‘The Anomaly’. As well as directing and co-producing, Clarke stars as Ryan, an ex-soldier who becomes subject to a bizarre scientific experiment. After waking up in the back of a van, he finds that he is only consciously himself for approximately ten minutes before his body is taken over and he loses control. He then awakens again, having missed out whole chunks of time and finding himself in an array of different scenarios. If this all sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is.
The story is initially set in the futuristic cities of London and New York full of flying advertising and shiny things but without the budget and production skills of finer ultramodern adventures, the future has never looked so dated. In between the time hops are clunky fight sequences involving Russian gangsters and the like, where Ryan, against the odds, punches and kicks himself out of bother. These scenes are shot at a distracting pace, sped up and then slowed right down for the big hits, like the finishing moves in nineties videogame Tekken. It’s like watching The Raid on hallucinogens. A romantic subplot slides in where he befriends a hooker who quickly develops deft gunmanship and athleticism. Both having suffered a raw loss in their lives, they form an alliance to overturn the criminal exercise cooked up by a father and son partnership who seemingly want to take control of everyone in the world, but for no apparent reason.
Throughout the repetitive structure, Noel Clarke’s acting performance is frustratingly one-dimensional. He perfects a look of bemusement every time he wakes up somewhere different, despite the fact that it has happened time and time again. Before long, he figures out the ploy against him, involving Brian Cox, the father of the father and son villainous duo, wired up in a glass bubble and attempts to outsmart his foes. The son, played by Ian Somerhalder, is effective as a smarmy know-it-all in a suit, acting tough but ultimately wanting to please his father. He crops up in the various situations, serving as the stereotypical baddie.
Overstretching it in terms of the complicated plotting, ‘The Anomaly’ struggles to achieve the same authenticity that the director’s previous features have had. The dialogue is very clichéd and lacks punch, perhaps because Clarke himself was not on writing duties this time around. To see a change in focus from expectations is refreshing, if flawed, and results in little more than forgettable popcorn fodder. Hopefully a return to his excellent urban crime background will right this wrong.