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  Synchronic Making Time For Drugs
Year: 2019
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monseff, Bill Oberst Jr, Betsy Holt, Shane Brady, Kate Adair, Matthew Underwood, Carl Palmer, Martin Bats Bradford, Sam Malone, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Sophie Howell, Natasha Tina Liu
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are best buddies, just as well when they spend so much of their working lives together. They are paramedics and have been for some years, meaning they have seen it all, or used to believe they had, because this is a job that can surprise you. What is not so surprising is all the drugs casualties they see, and there appear to be more and more with each new designer version on the market, getting around the legalities of their effects by being manufactured by big pharma companies. However, there's a new one called synchronic that is not very widespread, but is having some highly dangerous effects...

Synchronic was what the cult combination of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead made when they had a budget behind them, nothing massive, but enough to make their visuals more ambitious than they had been previously in movies that had been slowly and steadily picking up an increasingly fervent following. It seemed this would only add to that, at least initially, yet there were voices of dissent, including from those who had appreciated their efforts before: could it be that this was more disappointing than mindboggling? That had been their stock in trade, the cosmically strange science fiction flick, and there was something about the plot here that was not so much bizarre - though it wasn't ordinary - as too tied to a specific genre in science fiction.

That was the time travel genre, an old standby for many an enthusiast, but for a team who had shown such an understanding of how to bend reality to their own narrative ends, why was it this did not come across as so inspired as they had when they were promising talents? With a big Disney/Marvel television show in their shared future, could it be they were sanding off the rough edges of their wild imaginations and smoothing out the controlled craziness that had rendered their filmography so distinctive thus far, all for a bigger paycheque? Really, there was one major idea that fuelled this film, and that was the past was a terrible place to be: an American anti-nostalgia.

Try telling that to someone whose best days were behind them, but the drug of the title has an effect that sends its takers back to the past, to a location in time depending on where they are standing at any given instance. After some character establishing that is not wasted by any means, Steve discovers as part of a routine medical examination (he accidentally pricked himself with a needle at a call-out) that he is suffering from a brain tumour that will in all likelihood kill him. Sure, he can undergo treatment to prolong his life, but it's not going to make him live indefinitely by any means, so with that in his thoughts and his relationship with Dennis under strain because he will not share his bad news with him, Steve needs a project to throw himself into. As fortune would have it, he has one with Dennis's eighteen-year-old daughter.

She has gone missing while under the synchronic influence, and after trying it himself (and being pestered by its inventor, a rogue scientist who wants his stash) Steve twigs that she has been sent to the past, which need I remind you is a horrible place to be. Not least if you are a black man - this is in the Deep South of Louisiana, and whenever Steve goes back to investigate be seems to meet a racist or ten who want to keep him down, or indeed kill him. This was the film's strongest element, the notion that if you were Michael J. Fox you would be able to blend in to an extent with the people you met, yet if you were of a darker complexion like Mackie, a whole new set of problems arise. It was returned to at the end, with a fine cameo by regular screen baddie Bill Oberst Jr, so this was not a fleeting bit of business, but it was lost in too much angst from other characters which diluted Steve's far more interesting storyline. It was also nowhere near as audacious as this duo had conjured up earlier; from many other filmmakers, it would be good enough, but their fans expected more. Music by Jimmy LaValle.

[Synchronic is available from Signature Entertainment on digital platforms from 29th January 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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