Synchronic ★★½

I've written about this before, but the problem with time travel is the whole space part of the deal. If you were to move in time, but not in space, your blood would boil and your lungs explode in the hard vacuum of space as you watched Earth spin away from you at 67,000 miles per hour.

I bring this up because Synchronic opens with someone making the tactical error of travelling into the distant past while on the seventh floor of a hotel. As logic would dictate, the likelihood that said hotel would be there, with structurally sound flooring in place, during the Cambrian era, well, I wouldn't bet the Bitcoin wallet on it. Sure enough, the gentleman learns the hard way that gravity isn't just a good idea, it's the law... but I kept thinking he should have kept falling until he hit Ganymede.

The time travel conceit of Synchronic - some dude accidentally creates a pill that causes you to perceive time is a flat circle - makes no sense at all; how could a modification of your perceptions cause you to physically change a damn thing? But it doesn't matter. It does what a time travel story needs to, in that it sets up some rules to how its particular brand of time travel works, and it runs with it.

This movie wants to be not about time travel, but about time. How it slips away from us, and how it can loom in front of us, and how they never really change that much at all. Jamie Dornan's Dennis and Anthony Mackie's Steve are childhood friends who wanted to be doctors, but who wound up just being paramedics instead. Dennis got married young and had a kid, and Steve was busy chasing poon, and time just sort of passed by, you know? And Dennis's 18-year-old daughter is staring at her whole life in front of her like an empty horizon and is terrified about what it holds. Meanwhile, nothing much changes; they keep riding the ambulance, drinking in bars and fucking around, and wishing that things were different, while not paying much attention to what they have right now.

And there's something to that, and the parts of it that come through best are due to Mackie's and Dornan's performances. They'd got decent chemistry together, and are believable as guys who've known each other across years, and have an easy shorthand with each other. So those regrets can be picked up on when they're not being specifically told to us - there's a little more tell don't show in this flick than I'd like - but they're not exactly front and center.

No, what's front and center is the time travel stuff. That's what usually happens in a time travel story, you get caught up in the rules and the mechanics and the inevitable, "What if I get trapped?" plot points, and Synchronic is no different. We spend act two with Mackie eating pills and skipping through time, using the conceit of videotaping himself and complaining about how bad the past sucks to deliver the exposition.

But it's entertaining exposition. Turns out, I could watch Anthony Mackie get shitfaced and complain to an uncaring bartender about how Back to the Future is bullshit for a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, watching Jamie Dornan deliver exposition about the high points of his family life via sepia-toned flashbacks? Yeah, far less time, thanks.

Synchronic is an entertaining little sci-fi story that supports itself with pretty solid performance at its core, provided you don't stop and think about it too much. Because if you do, you'll wonder why a fly-by-night operation making what they thought was truckstop DMT would go to the trouble and expense of finding and harvesting a rare northern California flower to make it when you can make meth with Sudafed, and realize that if the pill actually worked the way they say, every taker would have just vanished, in the sense that they would all be bouncing gently off of asteroids somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

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