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'Synchronicity': Sci-Fi That Smells Like More Than It Is

Strange science is afoot in <em>Synchronicity</em>.
Magnet Releasing
Strange science is afoot in Synchronicity.

Squeeze through the wormhole that is Jacob Gentry's indie sci-fi movie Synchronicity and nothing looks much different on the other side, just faint echoes of the past. In fact, the film could double as a metaphor for itself, a time machine constructed entirely of used components, with so little distance from its influences that it lacks its own utility. Gentry dutifully confronts the familiar paradoxes that go along with disrupting the space-time continuum, attempts a budget-friendly facsimile of Blade Runner's future-noir atmosphere, and adds a dash of contempt for corporate meddling. What Synchronicity needs is something else — anything else — that might give it some distinction; otherwise, every second is a reminder of a film that did it better.

"Effect without a cause / Sub-atomic laws / scientific pause ..." Hey, The Police song "Synchronicity I" had it right, after all! Here pasty physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) and his assistants, Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matty (Scott Poythress), work for 72 hours straight before finally breaking through on their secret wormhole project. The experiment, bankrolled by glowering VC bigwig Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside), lets off such a powerful flash of energy that it knocks Jim unconscious, but the young scientists come away with a rare flower of mysterious origin.

As Jim tries to figure out the flower's source, along with the sudden headaches that leave him crippled in pain, he meets a femme fatale type in Abby (Brianne Davis). Even Jim realizes she's an agent for Meisner, but he still can't resist her. When Jim goes through the wormhole himself looking for answers, another version of himself starts to occupy the same terrain, and the universe itself starts to reject the disruption. (In a funny moment of self-awareness, a character paraphrases Ned Beatty in Network: "You have meddled with the primary forces of nature!") Jim has to resolve these problems without destroying himself or rupturing the very fabric of reality. (Again, that Police song has most of this covered: "Science insusceptible / Logic so inflexible / Causally connectible," etc.)

Awash in the pale blue light of Blade Runner noir, Synchronicity limits its future look to glass elevators, a couple of concrete towers of Guggenheim-like proportions, and computer-rendered nightscapes. The time machine itself is a DIY creation of vault dials and steel orbs, housed in what looks like repurposed office space. The look of the film is conceptually sound but too inexpressive for noir, which traditionally uses its hard shadows to intensify the emotions. But the economy of the locations serves the film well in its lively second act, when Jim keeps having run-ins with his own doppelganger and Gentry pulls clever loop-de-loops back in time. Though the logistical curlicues never bend as ingeniously as the multiplying timelines in the no-budget Primer, Gentry has fun playing with the metaphysical conundrum of a character confronting himself.

Where Synchronicity goes drastically wrong — besides squandering the deliciously sinister Ironside — is in Jim's relationship with Abby, who never makes much sense beyond a projected male fantasy. A classic femme fatale isn't just a seductive, dangerous object of desire but someone who uses duplicity in pursuit of her own goals. Gentry turns Abby into an ill-defined and passive figure, servicing the whims of two men without ever taking true ownership of her agenda. She's no more animate a mystery than the beautiful flower Jim takes back from another dimension. She epitomizes a film that emits the fragrance of thinking person's science fiction, but offers none of the depth.

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Scott Tobias is the film editor of The A.V. Club, the arts and entertainment section of The Onion, where he's worked as a staff writer for over a decade. His reviews have also appeared in Time Out New York, City Pages, The Village Voice, The Nashville Scene, and The Hollywood Reporter. Along with other members of the A.V. Club staff, he co-authored the 2002 interview anthology The Tenacity Of the Cockroach and the new book Inventory, a collection of pop-culture lists.