‘Synchronic’ Has Interesting Ideas But A Half-Baked Plot

by Jonah Desneux on October 23, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

In Theaters & Drive-Ins October 23

There’s no greater pain for a movie lover than being excited about a film and ending up utterly disappointed. Nothing can set off a heated rant faster than a film beaming with potential, going off the rails and not hitting like you so desperately hoped. With the blandest of dramas, your still able to enjoy a performance or two, a comedy that doesn’t quite hit will still provide the occasional laugh, and even over the top action movies have one or two big booms that light up the easiest to please part of your brain.

Half-baked sci-fi though is rough and when watching, there is no escape from its pretentious exclamations. Great sci-fi needs to be clever throughout and accessible to all audiences. Good sci-fi needs to at least be entertaining. Synchronic is neither of those, and once you get past the intriguing synopsis, there’s not much left to enjoy.

Anthony Mackie stars as Steve, a terminally ill paramedic turned time detective. Steve and his lifelong friend and paramedic partner Dennis (Jamie Dornan) begin noticing a slew of strange and gruesome accidents on the job. A mystery gets underway of what is causing people to get injured or commit suicide in bizarre ways, and there is a discovery of a new party psychedelic drug known as Synchronic. After Dennis’s teenage daughter completely disappears from a party, Steve begins to take the drug in hopes of finding answers. What he discovers changes his perception of reality and puts him in a race against—you guessed it—time!

There is a lot to be intrigued by in Synchronic. Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead show off an exciting picture on the front of the box, but putting the puzzle together is significantly less fun. The film does a great job grasping interest in its opening and introduction, but swiftly throws it all away in an awkward scene that explains everything, which becomes the film’s first disappointment. Though the plot is progressed, the excitement and pacing is completely gutted. The moment the film becomes an extravagant rescue mission rather than a mind-bending mystery, all the momentum is washed away in the predictable narrative that follows. The rules of the sci-fi game are poorly laid out and 40 minutes that follow are watching a man use the scientific method with stakes intended to be high, but with no real twist to be found.

All of the dots of Synchronic get connected and there are no laughably apparent loose ends, yet the film still seems incomplete. It’s as if the creators brainstormed an interesting idea and went with the narrative’s rough draft as opposed to taking the time to add in more enticing elements. Due to this, the film falls flat, and everything that once initially pleased you becomes a reminder of the film that you could have gotten instead. The leftovers stick with the film’s important nature and take itself far too seriously for having such an outrageous plot. Outrageous plots aren’t bad and are essential to many of the great science-fiction works, but when it doesn’t work and it’s taken for overly dramatic work, then it’s an absolute slog to get through.

The visuals in Synchronic are also hit and miss. Breathtaking and innovative in some moments, they are covered in bleakness to fit the film’s tone. This look pays off well at the beginning as a drug is taken and a normal room begins to shift into a nightmare before your very eyes, but as the film progresses, this unique look loses its appeal and only adds to the overall blandness. The short moments in “out there” locations are impressive and immersive, but enough time is not spent there to be anything more than a cool bit. The film’s cinematography and editing however are also on point, helping highlight the moments that do look great.

Synchronic’s existential themes don’t bring anything new to the table even though it is presented in an original setting. However, the way the film addresses the past and aggressively combats it are the brightest moments in the dialogue and provide the most food for thought. Instead of being wowed by the wonders of the past, like in most other time-travel explorations, the past is made out to be nothing but a horrible and horrifying place. Steve being a black man traveling to the past is another insightful layer that usually isn’t touched on films of this kind. The blunt commentary on this at times is hilarious like Mackie exclaiming “fuck the past” and also reflective in how perspectives and ideas would be for different people.

Mackie’s performance is good and helps keep the film afloat during its worst times. The serious attitude of the film doesn’t work as well as the directors would have hoped, but Mackie’s charm salvages moments that could have been stale otherwise. Dornan isn’t as successful with how he handles the lackluster script but works well enough with Mackie and Katie Aselton who plays his wife.

There’s a better movie somewhere in the thick of Synchronic’s ideas and imagination. More importantly, there’s a more interesting one. Benson who wrote the film on his own proves that he’s capable of big ideas with large appeal. Hopefully next time, he’ll take his original idea travel down a far more engaging road.

Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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