Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, David Lawson Jr., Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead   Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead   Screenplay:  Justin Benson   Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef, Bill Oberst Jr., Betsy Holt, Shane Brady, Matthew Underwood, Carl Palmer and Jean-Pierre Vertus   Distributor:  Well Go USA

Grade: C

Three years ago Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead made an intriguing sci-fi drama called “The Endless,” about two brothers who returned to the cult compound where they’d been raised to find it virtually frozen in time.  A chain of further oddities, including a rope that disappeared into the sky, cluttered the last act, and the low-grade effects hobbled the modestly budgeted effort, but it certainly was a satisfyingly weird, if cheekily puzzling, piece.

Time—or more precisely time travel—is again the linchpin of their new film, which is blessed with better effects and a stronger cast (Benson and Moorhead themselves starred in the earlier film).  But “Synchronic” is less inventive and engaging than “The Endless,” largely because by the close it’s become quite literal and conventional, like a mediocre “Twilight Zone” episiode.   

Anthony Mackie stars as Steve, a paramedic in New Orleans who’s partnered with Dennis (Jamie Dornan).  The story begins when they’re called to a gruesome crime scene, where a man has been killed with an antique sword and the other victims are dazed and uncomprehending.  They’ve all been using a popular new designer drug called Synchronic, which has not yet made the prohibited list.  A prologue has already demonstrated that taking it seems to open up a different world to a user. 

The ensuing nights bring similar scenes, and Steve begins to suspect that the drug has some incredible effects.   His suspicions are confirmed when the inventor of the drug (Ramiz Monsef) shows up to explain—all too explicitly—what it does.  Coincidentally Steve has also just been diagnosed with a brain tumor alongside his pineal gland, which supposedly has some connection to psychic powers.

That leads him to experiment with the drug—which becomes all the more important when Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears while at a Synchronic party.  Steve hopes that by finding out how to use the drug correctly, he’ll be able to travel to the moment in the past to which she was transported, find her and return her to his partner and his wife (Katie Aselton) before the tumor kills him.

“Synchronic” starts promisingly enough, but it doesn’t take long for it to devolve into a fairly silly time-travel yarn, marked by not terribly impressive sequences depicting the various eras to which Steve goes.  In the process it becomes very much Mackie’s movie, and the actor responds with a committed performance to which he occasionally manages to add a touch of humor to the pervasive gloom.  By contrast Dornan is given little to do but act pensive or sad after the first thirty minutes or so, and most of the supporting cast are bland, though there are a few exceptions who overact badly (Monsef as the harried doctor, Jean-Pierre Vertus as a cackling drunk).  And while the effects are more convincing this time around, they’re still not cutting-edge; in fact, the visuals in general—the production design is by Ariel Vida and Moorhead served as cinematographer, while he, Benson and Michael Felker edited—aren’t very evocative, even in the time-travel sequences.  Jimmy LaValle’s score is just average.       

One hopes that “Synchronic” proves a temporary lapse for Benson and Moorhead.  It wants to be mind-bending, but in the end comes across as more mind-numbing.