Fantasy fans who prize tricksome plotting above spectacle may take a shine to “Synchronicity,” a time-travel tale much more in line with of such modestly scaled recent indies as “Predestination,” “Time Lapse” and the Spanish “Timecrimes” than action-oriented studio pics like “Looper” or “Edge of Tomorrow.” Polished and clever, though not quite so engrossing or memorable as one might have hoped, writer-director Jacob Gentry’s first feature since 2007’s exquisite-corpse triptych “The Signal” should appeal to a smaller segment of the same demo that made “Ex Machina” a sleeper hit this year.
As it happens, “Synchronicity” also suffers from the same Earth-bound failure of imagination as “Ex-Machina”: an essentially dull, familiar view of gender dynamics that provides the primary emotional focus in an otherwise intriguingly offbeat near-future context. In that film, it was the naif-nerd hero’s relationship to a deceptively innocent-looking A.I. agent of destruction. Here, the slightly older naif-nerd hero gets a stock two-faced femme fatale to steal his ideas and lead him nose-first through the increasingly dense narrative hoops. In both cases, a smart script is somewhat let down by the banality of a brainy, not-unattractive male protagonist who nonetheless seems to abandon all reason the first time a pretty girl (or even a pretty robot) bats eyes at him.
We meet physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) on the verge of a breakthrough: Aided by even nerdier assistants Matty (Scott Poythress) and Chuck (AJ Bowen), he’s about to “open a traversable wormhole in the space-time continuum.” So far he’s conducted the experiments in a private lab on his own time and dime. But they require the use of a wildly expensive substance available only from a vast conglomerate whose venture-capitalist CEO, Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside), refuses to cooperate unless he’s given a hefty share in the rights to any positive results. With things at a crucial juncture, Jim surrenders some of that control, though he’ll certainly live to regret it — the ruthlessly acquisitive Meisner admits upfront he wants to be Edison to Beale’s Tesla, i.e. the man who grabs credit for another’s altruistic invention and exploits it to purely commercial ends.
A stereotypical disheveled-science-dweeb type, Jim is likely to bungle even this ill-fated if temporarily necessarily deal but for the intervention of Abby (Brianne Davis). She’s an alluring young thang who turns up out of nowhere, and proves the smooth-talking promoter he is not. It doesn’t take long for him to realize she’s probably manipulating him on the tycoon’s behalf, and in fact is already the latter’s mistress. But by then our hero is already head over heels, having apparently never had sexy time with a presentable female before.
Just before the midpoint, when it’s clear he’s backed himself into a corner with both Abby and Meisner, Jim makes a time-machine guinea pig of himself. This immediately ramps up the story’s intricacy, and danger, since Jim now faces the prospect of crossing paths with his own doppelgangers (who may or may not be existing in parallel dimensions), which in turn has deteriorating effects on his health. As he tries to re-orchestrate events to his favor by jumping back and forth in time, the complications grow confusing enough that some viewers with a jones for such things will want to watch “Synchronicity” more than once.
Others will be sated by a single exposure to ably played yet one-dimensional characters who never rise to the intrigue level of the plot mechanics around them. The central romance has only the rooting value bestowed by formulaic expectations, while Ironside’s nemesis is just a generic Evil Corporate Guy. “Synchronicity” is best approached as a sort of Rubik’s cube, a series of shiny, sliding, interlocking surfaces that require dexterity to move and figure out, but contain nothing beneath of pressing value.
Sleek packaging manages a glossy day-after-tomorrow feel on doubtless modest means, with Eric Maddison’s widescreen lensing and Ben Lovett’s old-school synth score making a particular effort to evoke the retro-futurist aesthetics of fondly remembered 1970s and early ’80s sci-fi films.