The lead character in Cypher is called Morgan Sullivan. So pleased was I with the Preston Sturges nod that I was more than willing to suspend my higher critical faculties as this film tiptoed around territories usually inhabited by films whose credits include the line ‘Based on a book by Phillip K.Dick’. Unlike films usually based loosely on a merest smidge of a Dick concept, Cypher is an impressive little sci-fi potboiler that works with the auidence rather than against it. Sure the plot revolves around the old bait-and-switch with the lead characters identity – but at least here it is not an excuses for Arnie to punch someone or Tom Cruise to have a rocket pack fight. Here with have a tightly packed film which has one central idea and tells a great story with it.

It is also joyously the most scattershotly derivative film I have seen since Brian De Palma made The Untouchables. There is a lot of Hitchcock here, big nods to North By Northwest but there are cobbled nods for Speilberg, Kubrick, Gilliam, 50’s sci-fi films, 30’s sci-fi serials – you name it. This is all good, because the majority of the film coasts along nicely with its own very original look. It is a film of two halves, and the art direction signposts this. First half its all a bit baffling, and the cold austere sets flag this. The audience just wants to know what the hell is going on. Second half, when we are probably a step ahead of the lead character, it turns into a much more human paranoia thriller, colours splash in and things feel a lot more conventional. This use of visual language helps the audience along, something Vincenzo Natali probably learnt when making Cube* – colours make a big difference.

In the centre of the film though is another great turn from Jeremy Northam. He is in every scene, and there is a lot of tricksy acting going on here. As the tone shifts, as his character shifts, he makes a natural progression.Remember Arnuld in Total Recall, where his happy suburban Doug Quaid did not seem that markedly diffferent to his beefcake secret agent Doug Quaid. Happy suburban Arnuld does not convince full stop. Northam instead does jittery, nervous, dull and then also does smooth, sauve and driven. Lucy Lui is in comparison under used but compliments him perfectly.

Two more things about Cypher before I sign off. It is often very, very funny (the really, really sci-fi bits near the end of the film throws every cliche at the screen in a joyously silly way). Best of all is the films Maguffin. The film revolves around the obtaining of a special data file and with all its nods to Hitchcock and classical Hollywood film the audience is lulled into thinking that of course it is so important that we will never actually find out what it is (nothing is THAT important). Well something is that important, and we find out what it is. Entertainment.

*It is also possible he knew this all along.