The first act of Synchronic seems to suggest a much more profound journey ahead, but the movie never quite reaches that level of loftiness. Still, keeping the story small and tethered to these two characters specifically, while also playing bit with time, as a cat would with a ball of yarn, makes for a unique and effective ride. Once it gets into the thick of time travel, Synchronic sort of sticks to rudimentary roots, walking in the footsteps of other famous yarns. Fortunately it’s got Mackie’s Steve and Dornan’s Dennis to fall back on, making for a much more intimate and personal thriller, and also one of the better projects Mackie’s been a part of during his post-Endgame run of Netflix movies (including Point Blank and Outside the Wire).
Synchronic takes medium swings with its sci-fi, zipping Mackie’s character back to several points in the past, all in the geographical spot where New Orleans now resides. The film’s scope ranges from the Ice Age to the Revolutionary War and more, but its strength as a story lies in the blending of those moments with the here and now. Both Steve and Dennis are individually plagued by the curse of existence, as is par for the course with humanity. Their own memories, regrets, and fears flood Synchronic with lovely detail. Sure, Steve begins experimenting with this crazy drug that allows him to hop back in time for seven minutes, but the non-science fiction moments of the movie are just as compelling.Steve, who lives his life adrift as a perpetual lothario on the run from commitment, is given shocking medical news. At the same time, Dennis flounders in a marriage that he subconsciously (or maybe even consciously) tries to sabotage. The two are trapped in a profound “grass is always greener” scenario, envying each other’s lives while spending their nights treating the lost and wounded in the Big Easy. The city, well known for its ghosts, is the perfect backdrop for these two men who float from flop houses to crusty abandoned amusement parks on the unintentional trail of a drug that’s leaving bodies in its wake.
The time travel element, once Steve starts to parse to rules of how the Synchronic pills work, almost acts like a tongue-in-cheek horror element. There’s not a single place Steve travels where his life isn’t almost in immediate, grave danger by an animal or a hostile human. Sure, it all speaks to the dangers of the past — and Steve even mentions how much the times of old truly sucked — but there’s almost a malevolent element to the drug in that it places you right in the path of a video game-style mini boss to defeat, whether it’s a Neanderthal or a gator or what have you.
Just so you don’t think this is a two man show, The League’s Katie Aselton and Into the Badlands’ Ally Ioannides nicely round out the rest of this small cast as Dennis’ wife and daughter, respectively. Their characters directly tie into the reasons for Steve’s dive into Synchronic experimentation. The second half of the movie features him actively trying to solve a mystery, one that’s sent Dennis’ life into a giant spiral, making it so the sci-fi elements here are born from the guys’ friendship and feel necessary.
Synchronic is, smartly, a restrained story that’s able to tackle big and wild ideas by keeping everything embedded within the experiences and lives of the two main characters. The movie at times feels like a dream, in the way that a lot of its transitions involve the star-filled night sky or even just shots of cosmic scatterings, but the story never feels surreal in a way that makes you doubt the world Steve and Dennis live in. It all works as a humble and gripping fable.
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