With the help of a synthetic party drug and an updated version of the Magical Black Person, Synchronic gives an interesting take on the time travel genre but only goes skin deep with the story.
Synchronic is a sci-fi/mystery where two NOLA paramedics stumble upon supernatural events caused by a designer party drug that takes some of its users on real-life, and sometimes deadly, trips. Each encounter is strange as they find baffling wounds and trauma inflicted on the victims: a man ripped to pieces in an elevator shaft, a woman in bed with a venomous bite from a snake that hasn’t been seen in decades, “spontaneous” combustion, and sword wounds.
As the film progresses, Dennis Dannelly’s (Jamie Dornan) daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing after taking the drug and his best friend, Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie, who we love in Falcon And The Winter Soldier) discovers that Synchronic can travel through time, and only he can find and save Brianna.
Dennis and Steve are friends who’ve been together through thick and thin. Steve introduced Dennis to Tara (Katie Aselton) and has a tight god-uncle relationship with Brianna, while Dennis stuck with him during a troublesome time and gives him a solid friendship to fight off being a total loner. However, it becomes apparent that neither of them is happy with their lives. Dennis is disillusioned with his marriage and lack of intimacy with Tara because of work and the new baby, and Steve wants connection but is closed off with past trauma and the sudden revelation that he has inoperable cancer surrounding his preserved pineal gland and has between 6 weeks to 2 years to live. Each struggle with their disappointment and wish to be in the other’s shoes.
Steve keeps this information to himself while attempting to keep things normal by self-medicating and diving into work. While on a call, a friend reports Brianna missing from a party and Steve notices another Synchronic package left at the scene, prompting him to find and buy the remaining pills to destroy them.
However, before he does, he’s visited by the maker of the drug, Dr. Kermani (Ramiz Monsef), who explains what Synchronic does and how it uses the pineal gland to grant the ability to time travel and, because he wants to atone for his actions, tracked every shipment down so he could destroy the drug. Steve, seeing this as an opportunity to find Brianna, lies and tells him he got rid of it. Satisfied, Dr. Kermani leaves, giving Steve the chance to experiment with a handful of the last remaining pills to learn the rules and save Brianna.
Steve’s observational trips to the past doesn’t dive deep into the narrative of why time traveling while Black in America isn’t a Good Thing™. One highlight was listening to a drunk Steve throwing shade at the beloved classic Back To The Future, but as a whole it doesn’t scratch the itch on the possibilities. Except for the Ice Age, each time he traveled in the story brought up how racism or superstition was an obstacle within the 7-minute rule. It lost out on a chance to explore the narrative during the only time he was trapped in the past. For those who are curious about Steve’s dog Hawking and how he plays a role in the observation trip, follow the hashtag link for spoilers. #Doesthedogdie
The premise of Synchronic is intriguing, and I was excited to see how it played out, but thought it lost its edge with the short development of Dennis and Steve by adding the missing child plot. That move shifted the established narrative to push Steve into the spotlight as a Magical Black Person who used his unique illness to be of service to Dennis by skipping through unknown points in Louisiana to face racism and superstition and sacrifice the rest of his shortened life. Even with the brief set up to Steve’s knowledge and interest of quantum time theory, and a side moment when Dennis explained to Tara how self-sacrificial he was, without seeing it in action felt flat.
While watching, it felt like the original story was about Steve and how he was a man with a troubled married life and terminal illness fighting to find his missing daughter and find redemption to strengthen his familial bond, but the writer didn’t fully know how to convey what it would be like to navigate that space with those obstacles. So the character’s roles were flipped and split in order to create a new storyline but it wasn’t strong enough to break out from what Steves’s trope brought to the table and possibly give the film a harder impact with a time-traveling PoC lead.
Synchronic is out now and can be streamed on US Netflix and other streaming services.
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