There’s brainy sci-fi, and then there’s very brainy sci-fi. It’s rare that very brainy sci-fi packs a genuinely emotional, or even just sensationalistic, wallop. But the filmmaking team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (of 2017’s “The Endless”) are working up an impressive batting average in this department.
Their new movie, “Synchronic,” is inspired, at least to some extent, by the wreckage wreaked by designer drugs of dubious legality (the ostensibly synthetic marijuana called K2, for instance). Here, a couple of overworked New Orleans paramedics, Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), discover casualties of the pill that gives the movie its title. Some die of mishaps, like falling down an elevator shaft, but one woman expires of a snake bite. Not necessarily uncommon — except she was in a hotel without any venomous snakes on the loose.
As we get to know the central characters better, their circumstances feed a story line that gets curiouser and curiouser. Steve has a brain tumor he’s keeping secret. Dennis’s rebellious teenage daughter disappears after going to a drug party. The proximity of Steve’s tumor to his pineal gland and the average age of Synchronic users both prove significant. And Steve’s dog is named Hawking.
After Steve discovers that Synchronic is in fact a “time-travel pill,” it’s off to the races. Mackie’s character puts his life — which he considers expendable — on the line to help find his friend’s child, whom he suspects has become stuck in another, more hostile, time.
“The past sucks!” Steve discovers on his journey. Moorhead and Benson don’t overlook the more amusing aspects of the scenario: The expressions Hawking makes each time Steve goes into the past are droll, for example. And the duo deliver shocks, scares and a resonant payoff.
Rated R for language and violence. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.