It is a fact of life that we, the audience, are expected to suspend our disbelief as we enter the theater. After all, isn’t that what makes the movies so fun? But it comes with a catch: the plot must be airtight and, more importantly, grounded in a reality that we can all grasp onto. Deja Vu presents a plot that will require defenders to jump through ridiculous mental hoops to justify and, worse yet, it’s not all that involving.
Feeding off the political paranoia that we must all endure daily, the film opens with a terrorist attack on a U.S. Naval ship, killing over five hundred people. Brought in to investigate is Doug Carlin (Washington), a no-nonsense ATF agent. He discovers early on that the explosion was deliberate, but it is when a body washes ashore at the crime scene, seemingly killed before the attack, that things get interesting.
Actually, that’s an understatement. Carlin discovers that the government has found a way to “bend” time so that officials can see and hear everything that has happened four and a half days in the past. The technology allows them to “send” clues back in time to forewarn of future crimes. This is hardly new territory (remember Biff Tannen and the “alternate 1985” from Back to the Future Part II?), but Deja Vu initially ropes us in. It is when the screenplay, by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, begins to make up more rules and demand acceptance of ludicrous events, not to mention a completely unconvincing love story subplot that the film flies off the rails.
As dedicated readers may recall, Director Tony Scott’s Domino garnered the number one spot on my Worst list of 2005. His ADD-style of film making had already outstayed its welcome by the middle of 2004’s Man on Fire, but color me pleasantly surprised that Scott shows restraint with this offering. By restraint, I mean you can actually tell what’s going on. He actually seems genuinely interested in telling a story, as absurd as it might be, and the film looks plenty sleek.
Denzel Washington is right at home as the wisecracking Carlin in a role that is eerily similar to his character earlier this year in Inside Man. As fun as he may be, it is James Caviezel as the mad bomber who steals the show and nearly makes the film recommendable. His turn, as a “patriot” who believes that the sacrifice of human lives is necessary for the progression of freedom, is hauntingly effective. Paula Patton is given very little to do but act really scared and Val Kilmer is used and then forgotten about for the entire third act.
Audiences will no doubt leave debating the intricacies of the plot and its labyrinthine explanations for time travel, but the fact of the matter is that nothing here is all that new and there are plenty of other films that have more fun with the notion. As Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, “this is like deja vu all over again.”
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 128 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality.
Theatrical Release: November 22, 2006
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson