Cops-and-Drugs Time-Travel Thriller ‘Narcopolis’ Takes Too Long to Get to Its Promising Ideas


Imagine a future world in which most narcotics are legal and regulated, in which a cop like Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) patrols London for black-market dealers, remembering the days when his job made more sense and his own drug problem was raging.

Sounds like a ripe conceit for social commentary, right? Well, Narcopolis writer-director Justin Trefgarne isn’t really interested in exploring the unintended effects of legalization; his real concern is with a time-traveling super-serum that has its origins twenty years further in the future — and is messing with Grieves’s beat here in that slightly less distant one.

It takes Trefgarne, whose screenplay is full of red herrings, quite awhile to get to that point, and even longer for Grieves to catch up. Among the things Grieves has distracting him are a frustrated wife and neglected son (with whom he bonds over a copy of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine), a buddy in the police lab who can’t stop babbling about his upcoming transfer, and an addict’s monomaniacal focus on his own past, which makes him ignore key information even when it’s spoken directly to his face. There’s also a sinister corporation called Ambro, an interrogation scene that primarily tortures the audience with its incessant use of the word “time,” and a scientist played by Jonathan Pryce, whose passable Russian accent seems to be saying “I’ll take a paycheck, but this is no Brazil!”

There’s simply too much going on to establish characters. More upsettingly — being that this is a sci-fi film — it’s impossible to tell what the cool parts are supposed to be. Grieves drives a sporty-looking car clumsily made futuristic with a barcode license plate, and our brief glimpses of the future-future are all headsets, holograms, and stormtrooper-like uniforms. You could achieve a similarly tepid, pulpy result by leaving a paperback copy of Wells’s novel in a milk bath overnight.


Written and directed by Justin Trefgarne

IFC Midnight

Opens October 2, IFC Center

Available on demand