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by Jay Seaver

"Solid structure, weak foundation."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's not really a glut of movies like this one out there, although if you spend enough time watching modestly-budgeted science fiction you'll see a fair number of people try to make something that needs the T axis to handle all of its twist, even if few of them are clever or dedicated enough to the details to make the result great. Jacob Gentry is the latest to give the knotty time-travel story a shot with "Synchronicity", and he does a fair job of building a complex structure fast enough that it doesn't collapse from its shaky foundation until the end.

It starts out actually requiring a paradox - physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is building a time machine, but only has the resources to open one end of a wormhole right now. He and colleagues Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matty (Scott Poythress) will need to demonstrate that works to investor Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside) in order to get what they need to later open the other end and send something through in order for the first demo to be a success. At first it looks bad, but then they find something new in the lab, and fortuitous passerby Abby (Brianne Davis) helps to sell Klaus on the project. It's obvious that something is fishy, and as Jim is falling for Abby, the effects of opening the wormhole are doing a number on his health.

The opening need for effect to precede cause indicates early on that Gentry intends to tell the sort of time-travel story that will stand up to a whiteboard test, telling a story where you can list events, draw lines, annotate, and potentially erase in a logical manner. It's a bit fuzzy at points, built on assumptions that time has different rules for people than non-sentient matter on the one hand and offering up an alternate theory that sounds an awful lot like an escape hatch on the other. It's a rickety enough construct, but one that plays reasonably fair by the rules it establishes.

Unfortunately, the more conventional parts of the story tend ot undermine this pretty severely. The biggest culprit is the Jim/Abby relationship - the tight timeframe of the story requires some convincing love at first sight, and later revelations that the pump had been primed on one side can't overcome some pretty low levels of initial chemistry. It's also a "love story" that has its origins in creepy situations and intentions on both ends, which Gentry and co-writer Alex Orr don't seem to feel the need to acknowledge and delve into. Pile some more conventional less-than-great writing on top, and you've got an odd conundrum - a time-travel movie where the pretzel logic is sound, but the straight parts of the pretzel are people acting in ways that the audience may not buy.

To Gentry's credit, he at least tries to keep things moving quickly enough that these issues may not stick. Part of it is that the structure of the film requires multiple passes, so much that isn't potentially worth revisiting is chucked by the wayside so as not to waste time. Not everything - Gentry finds time for small moments that are funny or otherwise entertaining that would be ruined if overdone - but "nothing that's not worth seeing again" is a good rule of thumb for him to be following here. He goes for maximum noir tone to decent results, especially as he and cinematographer Eric Maddison do a fair job setting the tone by finding Atlanta locations that look kind of futuristic when shot at the right angle, even if much of the equipment in the makeshift lab is hacked together.

Trying to be a sort of sci-fi noir seems to ask things of the leads that they just can't give, though. Chad McKnight is good-looking and gives Jim almost enough charm that the audience can maybe see that Abby would be into him, but that audience has to be told that he's staying up for days on end; he's not so expressive and empathetic as to be irresistible. Brianne Davis, meanwhile, seems miscast as the femme fatale; she's got appeal when doing other things, but she doesn't walk into a room and immediately feel like more than Jim can handle; even when she's clearly being manipulative, it seems pedestrian. The film becomes lucky that it's got a solid supporting core, starting with AJ Bowen as Jim's best friend who can bring the smarts and the sarcasm to their weird situation. He also plays well off Scott Poythress as the odd, somewhere-on-the-spectrum member of the scientist crew. Michael Ironside pulls hard-nosed rich bastard duty, and does not disappoint.

The iterative structure of the movie is interesting and well-executed enough that it's enjoyable as a sort of puzzle box, and that's a decent accomplishment. If Gentry could have left it at that, or let the characters in this situation just be ruthless, "Synchronicity" might have come off a lot better, but trying to put something akin to a love story in it makes the whole thing too shaky to stand.

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originally posted: 07/31/15 22:31:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Jacob Gentry

Written by
  Jacob Gentry

  Chad McKnight
  Brianne Davis
  AJ Bowen
  Scott Poythress
  Michael Ironside

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