Last night though, I caught a Netflix movie that I felt was almost at the level of a Christopher Nolan film. Entitled “Synchronic” set in New Orleans, it stars Anthony Mackie as paramedic Steve Denube and Jamie Dornan as his paramedic cowoker and best friend, Dennis Dannelly.
The characters of Denube and Dannelly don't work the ritzy part of New Orleans with Antebellum houses and old money families. They spend their nights chasing down the victims on the seedier side of town. You, know the usual like gang violence, drug crimes, rape, murder, and lately a bizarre series of deaths involving a new synthetic drug called Synchronic that has just hit the streets.
The opening scene has the viewer in a second-rate motel room where an unnamed woman and her male friend are laying in bed and taking Synchronic. Both go through the beginning motions of entering an euphoric bliss before they diverge into their individual drug-induced alternate realities. Right after taking the drug, the guy gets out of bed, grabs the ice bucket and leaves the room looking for the ice machine. But first we have the woman staying in bed and looking around in bewilderment as her surroundings turn into a swamp, complete a huge rattlesnake crawling up her leg. The snake is clearly agitated rattling away with all its might while naturally the drug-hazed woman screams. This impromptu meeting does not go well for the woman.
Now with switch to her male companion who has stepped into an elevator going to another floor in search of the ice machine. The drug hits him while in the elevator, it dissolves to be replaced with him fall from a pretty high altitude onto a desert floor. The guy impacts the sandy surface and everything fades to black with the movie's opening credits beginning.
For me this was not an auspicious beginning, I'm sitting in one of the uncomfortable stuffed chairs my wife bought from the local fancy furniture store thinking we have another brain dead Netflix movie. No it wasn't things ramp up as the beginning credits fade away.
Denube and Dannelly come into the motel room with a stretcher and their medical supplies to see the woman still laying on the bed, alive but nursing a huge snake bite on her leg. Yeah, at first we somehow have to accept the idea that a psychedelic drug allowed the woman to manifest an actual snake bite. Because also on the scene is a New Orlean's animal control guy saying she was bitten and that it's the worse one he's ever seen. Oh, her male, ice machine hunting companion is dead. They found him when blood started dripping from the ceiling of the motel elevator. He somehow fell out of the elevator and impacted on the roof of the cab.
Okay, this is pretty much the point the movie pulled me in and didn't let go.
There are a few more strange, Twilight Zone deaths, all related to people taking Synchronic. SomethingDenube and Dannelly both notice but they each have their own personal problems that they are trying to deal with.
We learn that Anthony Mackie's character, Denube, has a brain tumor that is so serious the doctor arranging him to have immediate radiation treatments. After the first treatment, Denube learn a curious fact from the doctor that his pineal gland acts much younger than it should for him being an adult. Hold on, because this stray, unusual fact plays an important part in the movie.
Dannelly's personal problems generally relate to the fact that he is a whiner. He's married to a beautiful woman, they have a new baby but he's feels unfulfilled. Yeah, it's a drag but Anthony Mackie is the lead in this movie so the character of Dannelly and his problems have to be the pivot point. Dannelly does have a legitimate problem, a troubled daughter who's somehow eighteen years-old. No, the movie makes its clear that Dannelly's current wife is not her step-mother. The character of Dannelly and his wife don't look older than forty, a small flaw in the movie I'll blame on the casting director.
This eighteen year-old daughter, named Brianna, is chaffing at parental units and is known to take recreational drugs. See where this is going? But wait I say like some late night infomercial salesman so high on coke there's white dust on my nose, there's more.
Denube starts seeing packets of Synchronic being sold in convenience stores. When he does he buys the entire supply in anger and preaches to the clerk, who never has any say in what the owners put on the shelves, what this drug does to people. During one of Denube's rage-filled purchases another individual in the store tries to buy them off him once outside. That person is the drug's creator, a young but brilliant chemical engineer who is also trying to get Synchronic off the streets.
Denube learns from this guy that Synchronic tickles certain areas of the brain, including young pineal glands to the point it actually sends a person back in time. Yes, time travel and while you might scoff in contrivance, various stories and movies have used brain power and/or unusual drugs to allow people to travel in time. The best example was when the late Chris Reeves was in a movie called Somewhere in Time with Jane Seymour where he used his brain to go back to the early twentieth century just to get a date with Jane.
So while Denube is home feeling pretty crappy he eventually experiments with the drug, and yes he goes back in time. His experiments progress to the point where he drops in on a Spanish conquistador going through the New Orleans swamps around the 1500's, and ice age hunter tracking a woolly mammoth. Best of all a near-term visit to his own house somewhere during the high-point of of the KKK, where that bastard chases Denube with a gun before the effects wear off and he slides back to the twenty-first century.
Just because I love explaining this shit, Synchronic sends you back in time, not space. The user always appears in the same location but temporally anything possible. But another catch with this drug is that a small movement in location in your present is what sends you to different eras. Just Denube moving from one end of his couch to the other was the difference needed to switch from a conquistador chasing you with a sword to a Klan asshole chasing you with a pistol.
See, this is fun shit.
Well, things get serious when Dannelly's daughter, Brianna disappears. Yes, it involves Synchronic and because her pineal gland is fresh and young she somehow gets stuck in the time she traveled. This is one of the last things Denube learns from the drug's creator before he is mysteriously killed.
By this time Denube has either destroyed most of the Synchronic in his possession or used it in his experiments. A couple of pills remain and after convincing Dannelly he's not crazy by showing his video recordings of the experiments, Denube goes after Brianna to rescue her. I could spoil the ending, which is what I usually do but not this time.
I really enjoyed Synchronic and highly recommend it. I'm a big fan of Anthony Mackie, and his performance in this movie was great. After years of playing the superhero in Marvel movies, he comes across as a sad but normal guy who goes the extra mile for his friend. As for his costar, Jamie Dornan, playing Dannelly I can't say such good things. To have such a young adult daughter as Brianna, he simply look old enough for that to be plausible. But I feel even his acting was under cooked, probably, like he's just on set to collect another check after the Fifty Shades disaster hurt his career.
Once again, watch this movie, it takes time to be pulled in but it's worth the effort.