'The Anomaly': Edinburgh Review

British brain-bamboozler oscillates between the incoherent, the incomprehensible and the incompetent.

Ian Somerhalder co-stars with director Noel Clarke in the sci-fi action-thriller, which world-premiered at the Scottish festival.

On paper a high-octane, low-budget Brit answer to Upstream Color, Noel Clarke's mind-frazzling, patience-sapping The Anomaly instead provides meager rewards for those willing to endure its laborious convolutions. Starring the director himself as a traumatized ex-soldier who experiences life in discrete, disorienting bursts of nine minutes and 47 seconds, this gratingly over-ambitious slice of paranoid sci-fi will swing through UK theaters for a (slightly) longer duration from July 4 before seguing to a more rewarding small-screen afterlife.

The presence of Lost and Vampire Diaries' Ian Somerhalder may stir some interest Stateside, where Clarke himself has a certain fan-boy following via supporting turns in Dr Who and Star Trek Into Darkness (he also starred in and wrote another sci-fier Johannes Roberts' Storage 24, which scored a brief US release in 2013). But this is basically late-night filler for undiscerning channels and genre-oriented festivals.

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Clarke is such a busy-bee presence on the Brit cultural and cinema scene it comes as a surprise to realize this is his only his third outing in the director's chair, following 2008's surprise urban-themed hit Adulthood and 2010's lower-profile crime caper And it's by far his most action-heavy enterprise to date, punctuated with flashy mano a mano encounters between Clarke's foggy-brained protagonist Ryan and various formidable opponents - repetitive barneys which seem primarily designed to show off the director's own tough-guy chops.

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The bulk of these scraps involve the enigmatic, impeccably-tailored Harkin Langham (Somerhalder), whose urbane, unhinged ubiquity recalls Agent Smith from the Matrix pictures. Clarke and scriptwriter Simon Lewis have evidently studied the Wachowski's seminal trilogy chapter and verse, but their own variations on similar themes never remotely threaten to find their own distinctive pitch - fight-scenes are, for example, invariably a deflatingly jerky jumble of slowed-down and slightly speeded-up fisticuffs.

The narrative which unfolds around such pace-sapping set-pieces is necessarily a matter of confusing fragments, and only after more than an hour of cacophonous obfuscation does it emerge that Ryan is subject of nightmarish experiments conducted by Harkin's dad Professor Langham - played by Brian Cox in what's regrettably just an extended cameo. Cox's puppetmaster-ish influence over others is, however, indicated by several actors essaying a vague impersonation of the Scottish great's vocal mannerisms, one of numerous aspects of The Anomaly which yields unintended guffaws.

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The general air of slipshod incompetence thus torpedoes the intriguing concepts underlying Lewis's screenplay, which aims to combine Cronenbergian/Burroughsian bio-tech dystopias with the kind of mind-control phantasmagoria still best exemplified by Michael Reeves' The Sorcerers from 1967. Technical credits are OK within evident budgetary restraints - Tom Linden's steamrollering score is wheeled out at each and every opportunity - while performances range from the serviceable to the hammy. Spouting mainly Russian dialogue with gruff gusto, MMA legend Michael Bisping catches the eye and ear as a glowering gangland kingpin, suggesting a plausible future in low-brow knuckle-fests.

Production companies: Unstoppable Entertainment, Tea Shop & Film Company, thefyzz
Cast: Noel Clarke, Ian Somerhalder, Alexis Knapp, Luke Hemsworth, Brian Cox, Michael Bisping, Niall Greig Fulton
Director: Noel Clarke
Screenwriter: Simon Lewis
Producers: Jessica Caldwell, Noel Clarke, James Harris, Damon Lane, Phil Dore, Kate Glover, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Mark Lane, Arnaud Lannic
Executive producers: Katie Croxson, Jonny Fewings, Robert Jones, Susan Monaco, Saul Haydon Rowe
Cinematographer: David Katznelson
Production designer: Paul Burns
Costume designer: Andy Blake
Editor: Tommy Boulding
Composer: Tom Linden
Sales: Universal Pictures, Los Angeles

No Rating, 97 minutes