Review: Zero Merit

stars-1 (15): On General Release Friday 28th May

Sometimes filmmakers are the architects of their own destruction and Noel Clarke’s latest feature is a classic case of this syndrome. The director has made a film designed to attract negative criticism and inevitable swipes at its unfortunate title that is ripe for mockery.

As it happens, the descending numerical order of the film’s title acts as a handy metaphor for the rapid decline in ‘star rating’ that occurs within five minutes of its opening sequence. Billed as ‘4 Girls, 3 Days, 2 Cities, 1 Chance’, the narrative revolves around crucial missing information regarding a diamond heist that’s hidden within four interweaving points of view. Audiences familiar with the adrenaline inducing Go (1999) and Amores Perros (2000) will recognise the mechanics of the plot and expect a similar exciting ride. The fair attraction turns out to be less of a rollercoaster and more of a tea cup.

What lacks – and what Go and Amores Perros have in abundance – is intrigue. If a character isn’t a stereotype, they’re crushingly dull. If a character is inarticulate, their counterpart is simply crass. So we get self-harming Shannon, posh-toff-totty Cassandra, lesbian Kerry and American Joanna who has no perceivable characteristics other than her nationality and catchphrase “love you bitch”.

Noel Clarke seems to think he has his finger on the collective pulse of youth culture but he’s wrong. It takes more than sex, guns and dubstep to draw the audience in and with every attempt at being a little more ‘hip’ he comes across as a passive Daily Mail reader who perceives youth to be wild, untamed and unable to be sober for longer than five minutes. To add further insult he seems to presume that his target demographic won’t engage with a drama where a scene lasts longer than a minute or there isn’t a loud noise or a glimpse of flesh.

The film’s conclusion is anti-climactic to say the least, again contradicting the title that suggests a countdown to ‘something’. Part of that ‘something’ is revealed early on in Shannon’s story which is either horrendously lazy editing or a poor decision to retain that part of the narrative. The film ends up deflating instead of racking up enough tension to bring the story to bursting point.

Riffing on previous themes of parental absence, broken homes and the dubious, often harmful, influence of authority figures Clarke’s film is not only repetitive but a structural and tonal calamity. Packed with awful dialogue and mindless editing there is nothing to engage with or find positive in the film bar one line where a white con-artist is rounded on by a black gang who he tries to fend off with the line, “I voted Obama!” If you were planning on seeing this limp offering I’ve just ruined the best moment of the film. Sorry.