Time Trip

‘Synchronic’: a time-traveling bromance thriller with a surprisingly emotional subtext

I saw the Synchronic movie. It’s playing in actual movie theaters, all over the country. Unfortunately, because I saw it in a movie theater, I’m now dead.  Seriously, though, it’s safe to go to the movies, as we keep telling you. Now, on to the review.

Synchronic starts off as a surrealistic drug-horror film with a booming, obnoxious soundtrack, feeling almost like a Troma film directed by Christopher Nolan. And then it gradually turns into a time-traveling bromance thriller with a surprisingly emotional subtext. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead balance this variety of tones with varying success and overly dim lighting schemes, but it’s always interesting.


SYNCHRONIC ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides
Running time: 96 min


 

Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan play best-friend paramedics in post-Katrina and pre-COVID New Orleans. They begin to encounter a series of inexplicable gory deaths and strange injuries among young people in drug dens. Mackie eventually figures out that Synchronic, a limited-edition designer drug, is causing all the mayhem. For spoiler-alert reasons that I won’t explicate here, he begins to experiment with Synchronic himself, and finds out that it literally sends the user back in time for seven minutes.

But only young people get the full trip, because they have not-yet-fully-developed pineal glands in their brains. Mackie, who is as calcified as any other Gen-Xer, gets to play along because he has an inoperable tumor near his pineal gland. It’s a little high-concept, but then so is the idea of a pill that can make you travel through time.

Benson and Moorhead create effectively tense and creepy time-traveling sequences, and they explain the time-travel mechanism as best they can. The middle third of the film, where Mackie figures out how Synchronic operates, is by far the best part. It’s exciting and mysterious. The past is cool to look at, but deadly to interact with, and as a Black man, Mackie is in double trouble pretty much wherever in time he lands. This puts a legitimately fresh spin on a very overused topic, and Mackie packs a ton of movie-star charisma into long stretches where he’s basically the only character on screen.

Dornan, who isn’t a particularly good actor, doesn’t have as much to do. He mostly mopes around his house and cries about his wife and spouts bromides that resemble something you’d hear in a 12-step meeting. He’s a good man, a faithful husband, and a loving father, and everything else that male writers imagine about themselves. His mundane existence fills him with as much torture as Mackie’s character, who has an inoperable brain tumor and is traveling through time dealing with racist white people. This doesn’t seem like a fair deal, and it makes the film’s end, affecting as it may be, ring a little false. Ally Ioannides, as Dornan’s low-key teenage daughter, is much more interesting by comparison.

It doesn’t appear that many other people saw Synchronic this weekend. That may be in part because in September warned viewers not to go see the movie in theaters. That’ll do it. The film didn’t even crack the domestic top 10, even finishing behind Monsters, Inc. There’s no universe in which Synchronic would have been a hit anyway. It’s too shaggy and indie to have a lot of mainstream appeal. But the outlines of a hit are there. Synchronic has a strong concept, cool visuals, a dynamic star, and a low budget. It’s Benson and Moorhead’s third or fourth full-length movie, but feels like an audition for something a lot bigger.

This concludes my review of the Synchronic movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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