By Leah Greenblatt
May 04, 2018 at 06:05 PM EDT
Anon (2018)Amanda Seyfried CR: Netflix
Credit: Netflix

Will the future never end? If Anon feels like a half-hearted Xerox of dystopian noir, it’s only because we’ve seen this scenario so many times before: the bleak creep of technology into every corner; the stark cityscapes tinted 50 shades of industrial greige; the endless lines of numerical code and heels click-clacking down halogen-lit hallways. (And somehow, so many men in trench coats; in the grim tomorrow it’s either always raining or about to).

Director Andrew Niccol actually helped create all that when he wrote 1997’s Gattaca (he also conceived of another radical alternative reality the following year in The Truman Show, and a far less interesting one with 2011’s In Time). Here, it’s Clive Owen’s turn to play the man fighting for humanity in a chilly digital world. As Detective Sal Frieland, he hunts down criminals, but it’s not exactly hard: Every citizen is embedded with their own all-access surveillance and built-in camera, every private thought and bad action recorded for posterity.

No one who lives in this place can avoid being tagged with an overlay of their essential stats, visible to everyone they see: Name, age, occupation, criminal record — even the weight of a passing Weimaraner or the nitrate content of street-cart hot dog is fair game. But one day Sal clocks a woman walking down the street with no identity; an anomaly or an error, he’s not sure.

And when people abruptly start showing up dead with their internal recording devices turned on themselves, his work becomes a lot less straightforward. “What’s this world coming to when our murderers won’t tell us who they are?” he asks wryly. “We’ve actually got ourselves a whodunit.”

The who, it soon becomes clear, has something to do with the nameless girl who may be working as freelancer fixer-slash-mind eraser (Amanda Seyfried, valiantly trying to out-act her muddy brown wig); the why is murkier, though Niccol throws in a lot of cool camera angles, high-end set décor, and bared nipples to fill out the screen.

The story works well enough in its own moodily familiar way, but it’s not only the movie’s palette that’s stylishly leached of color: Its main characters’ backstories feel perfunctory, the dialogue leans heavy on exposition and hard-boiled cliché, and even Owen looks worn down — a man who wishes he could just lay down for a while and wake up in a world where the sky is blue and life is blissfully, anonymously analog again. B–