For a movie so intricately involved in the world of marketing and manipulation, you'd think that the filmmakers behind 'Syrup' would at the very least know how to successfully trick their audience into thinking that the flick is actually engaging. I mean, the characters go on and on about different techniques used to fool the unsuspecting public into buying up useless products and empty ideas, but the director can't ever fully sell the film itself. The movie attempts to be a playful and critical satire on advertising, but its commentary is far too thin and obvious to leave much of an impression, resulting in an experience that is almost as soulless and disposable as the subjects it aims to lampoon.
Based on Max Berry's best-selling novel of the same name, the story follows "Scat" (Shiloh Fernandez) an aspiring ad man who's looking for a great idea to help him break into the business. One night he hatches a "brilliant" concept for an energy drink and then sets off to try and pitch it. He gets the attention of a beautiful but deceitful executive who calls herself "Six" (Amber Heard), and it looks like he might be on his way to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, things don't go exactly as planned, and soon Scat is forced to navigate his way through the dangerous and dishonest advertising world, unsure who his true allies and enemies really are.
At its core, the movie seemingly wants to be an edgy, intelligent satire on the image-obsessed culture of the marketing business, but sadly there's just something "off" about the filmmakers' execution. Though the concept is perfect for humorous, mocking observations, most of what we get here lacks any real bite. Sure, there are a few dark jokes and scathing jabs aimed at advertising and consumerism, but far too much of the runtime comes across as banal and oddly straightforward without a worthwhile ironic spin. It's very clear that the events and dialogue are supposed to be taken in a farcical manner, but something about the script and direction makes it hard for that intended tone to really land in a comically or dramatically meaningful way.
Like the obsessively superficial business it seeks to examine, the story's commentary ends up being disappointingly shallow and the style is never quite assured enough to pull of the satirical bent that it's going for. To this end, certain plot points and decisions dealing with Scat's supposedly brilliant and manipulative marketing ideas are a little hard to buy since the movie fails to really nail the slightly exaggerated tone it needs to make them work. Similarly, various conflicts and obstacles feel far too convenient and easily overcome. Director Aram Rappaport tries to spice things up with a playful voiceover narration and a couple of self aware bits that feature the characters directly addressing the camera, but these stylistic diversions don't really add up to much. In fact, a lot of these flourishes feel rather forced and out of place, further calling attention to the movie's hollow tone.
Unfortunately, this plodding emptiness extends to the cast as well. Shiloh Fernandez is particularly unengaging, and his character never really clicks. His arc involves an internal struggle between superficial success, and a deeper desire for love, setting up a typical Jerry Maguire-esque tipping point where he has to basically decide between his job and his soul. Fernandez is adequate in the part, but his performance lacks range, usually hovering somewhere between smug and clueless. Amber Heard fares a little better, but the actress never feels completely at home in her role, and the chemistry between the pair is pretty lukewarm. The two do a lot of obligatory fast talking while walking, but they never fully sell their underwritten couple, and at their worst, they look more like they're playing dress up rather than truly inhabiting their characters.
While all this criticism might sound kind of harsh, at the end of the day, 'Syrup' is still moderately enjoyable. There are a few decent jabs at the business, and even an insightful observation here and there, expanding upon themes dealing with the pitfalls of deception and the emptiness of an image-obsessed lifestyle. These themes are nowhere near as developed as they should be, mind you, but there is a decent concept buried beneath the mediocre execution. If the director, writers, and performers would have layered a bit more substance and wit within their satirical ambitions, the story may have actually landed a little better on screen. As it stands, the movie misses the mark, and instead of a funny and smart critique on manipulative marketing, what we get here is a rather ineffectual romantic dramedy that happens to be set in the illusory world of advertising.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings 'Syrup' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. Some skippable trailers play upon start up before the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Clean and virtually problem free, this is a pleasing but not particularly noteworthy image.
Outside of some fleeting shimmering and light noise in darker scenes, the digital source is artifact free. Detail is solid throughout, though the picture isn't quite as sharp or dimensional as some other contemporary releases. The color palette is nicely balanced, offering some appropriate pop in certain wardrobe choices and locations (the lights of Times Square, and Amber Heard's blonde hair and bold red lipstick are particularly striking). Contrast is even as well, with good blacks and natural whites that avoid the overexposed, blooming quality found in many other titles.
'Syrup' isn't an especially impressive looking film, but the transfer is technically strong. Clarity is relatively good and the movie's standard, glossy style works well with its superficial marketing themes.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also included. Though not terribly immersive, this is a well produced mix that adds a little extra flash here and there.
Dialogue is clear and precise throughout with no balance issues. The soundstage is a little restrained, but general city ambiance (crowds, traffic, rain) is spread between the front soundstage with some minor disperse effects in the surrounds. Speech is also spread directionally when appropriate and other sounds like passing cars carry smooth imaging. The movie's score is lively and features nice fidelity and separation, and there are some flashy effects used to bolster the film's self aware montages. Bass activity is pretty negligible, however, but the content doesn't really call for much low frequency activity.
The track does a solid job of enhancing the film's atmosphere, and while it's never exactly enveloping, the sound design never comes across as too gimmicky or unnatural.
Magnolia has provided a very slim collection of supplements. All of the special features are presented in 1080i with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and no subtitle options (unless noted otherwise).
The core concept of 'Syrup' is ripe for potent satire on the advertising world, but the filmmakers' approach lacks the bite, wit, tonal cohesion and intelligence to pull it all off. Though there's a few worthwhile observations and the runtime is mildly enjoyable, the movie's social commentary is disappointingly basic and shallow. The disc itself features a solid technical presentation that, while not especially impressive, is fitting and free from any major issues. Unfortunately, we only get two brief supplements that don't really offer much substance. This is a flawed flick that can't help but feel like a missed opportunity, but if the concept sounds intriguing it might might still be worth a rental.