Within the first few minutes, you can tell that the movie Syrup has been adapted from a novel. There is just so much talking. There's a narrator, there are character voice-overs, there are direct addresses straight to the camera, and there's banter... so much energetic banter. It feels like the screenwriters wanted to squeeze all of the words from the book into the mouths of the on-screen characters. (The novelist Max Barry is co-credited for the screenplay, although he says on his website that he did not work on the shooting script.) These kinds of adaptations have been pulled off before, and at different times throughout the course of the movie, Syrup resembles a mix of Fight Club, American Psycho, and High Fidelity, just... you know... not as good.
Syrup is intended as a satire of the business of marketing, where image is everything and truth is not required. The main character (The Evil Dead remake's Shiloh Fernandez) decides to change his name to simply "Scat," hoping people will think of hepcats and jazz and not, like... poop. He desperately tries to impress a sexy cola marketer named 6 (Amber Heard) with an idea that is hopefully a career-starter: a Red Bull-ish drink in a black can called Fukk. She bites and pitches it to her bosses, and the energy drink becomes a new sensation. Unfortunately, Scat's roommate with the on-the-nose name Sneaky Pete (Twilight's Kellan Lutz) nabs the trademark to the product before Scat can, stealing his millions. Sneaky Pete also double-crosses 6, which makes 6 turn to Scat to get back at Sneaky Pete. (I am as incredulous that I just wrote that sentence as you are that you just read it.)
Scat and 6 trade quips at a screwball velocity, but to little effect. The jokes are rarely all that funny, and all that yapping makes scenes go on longer than they have any need to, storywise. Around the halfway point, a dramatic earnestness starts to creep in, as cowriter-director Aram Rappaport tries to expose the humans beneath the facades of "Scat" and "6." Yet, after the 45 glib minutes we've just watched, it's hard to start investing in them this late in the game. Sure, Network found a way to balance outlandish satire with real human drama, but it was created by filmmakers who knew their craft and had already made a lot of movies. Syrup, on the other hand, seems to have been made by inexperienced people who have watched a lot of movies. The skeleton seems right, but the guts are all out of whack.
For all its flaws, Syrup is quite watchable, thanks largely to Amber Heard, who gives 6 an air of worldliness and mystery that makes her more compelling to watch than the flustered schmuck who is supposed to be our main character. But, as with the character Heard plays, an air of worldliness and mystery only gets you so far. This movie feels like empty calories, much like the syrup and water our heroes foist upon the American public.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks very good for the standard-def presentation of a low-budget indie. The first half of the film has a warmer reddish-brown palette, while the second half tends toward cooler blue tones. Both approaches come off looking slick and pleasing. There is some occasional noise in the highlights, but nothing that distracts too severely from the action.
There is an English 5.1 Dolby audio track. For a dialogue-heavy movie, all the talk comes through loud and clear. Not much atmosphere in the surround channels. They mostly just kick in during the frequent music cues. There are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The included bonuses left me a little dumbfounded. I don't know how well Syrup did on video-on-demand back in May, but one gets the impression Magnolia knew they didn't have a hit on their hands and spent as little time on the extras as possible.
First up is an interview with executive producer / costume designer Sophia Banks-Coloma. Yes, that's right. Not the novelist. Not the cowriter-director. Not anyone from the cast. Not even one of the "real" producers of the film. Nope, instead we are treated to 7 minutes and 30 seconds with the costume designer, who talks about how the costumes relate to the characters. Also, she talks about Amber Heard's designer dresses in the film, and how they were worth about $2 million altogether. Somehow, I didn't get as excited about this info as she does.
Then, there is the fairly worthless 3-minute featurette AXS TV: A Look At..., which aired as an interstitial commercial on the AXS TV cable channel. The featurette combines clips from the trailer with clips from the costume designer interview with clips from an interview with... Kellan Lutz? Kellan Lutz was the only cast member they could get to do an interview? Sure, he is third-billed, but his character Sneaky Pete is mute for 90% of the movie and is essentially a glorified cameo role. It would be like doing a featurette for Gravity and having Ed Harris be the only interview subject from the cast.
The trailer, appropriately, is a much better piece of marketing than Syrup deserves. There are also trailers for To The Wonder, Kiss of the Damned, Hammer of the Gods, and Shadow Dancer.
Not as sharp or funny or touching as it wants to be, Syrup is not an absolute failure and makes for a decent time-killer. Rent It.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, "Gotta Stop (Messin' About)," is now available to stream or download on Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.