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November 22-28, 2006

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'Deja Vu'

Photograph by Robert Zuckerman
Give me a parking place or give me death: Radical troublemaker Jim Caviezel refuses to give an inch in 'Déjà Vu.'

The Agony of Repeat

'Déjà Vu" thriller ignores intriguing theme and opts instead for new variations on old chase scenes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

IF YOU PAY careful attention, you'll notice the little hiccup during producer Jerry Bruckheimer's logo—the one with the lightning storm over the lonely road—at the head of Déjà Vu. The clip suddenly rewinds, goes back and starts again. That's not exactly the true definition of the term "déjà vu," which is actually "the experience of thinking that a new situation had occurred before," but it's a little tease, suggesting just how far a good movie could really go using this phenomenon. Unfortunately, Tony Scott's new film isn't as concerned with cooking up new innovations as it is in finding a new way to sell the same old chase story. Not to mention that its sci-fi device, borrowed from earlier time-travel stories, has very little to do with déjà vu. Denzel Washington—who has logged so many hours playing various police officials and detectives that he must surely qualify for an honorary position on the force—plays ATF agent Doug Carlin. Carlin investigates when a terrorist bomb blows up a New Orleans ferry, killing more than 500 people.

His first clue comes when the body of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) washes ashore, having been killed and burned some time before the explosion ever took place. Several FBI experts (Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson and Erika Alexander) invite him to join their team and introduce him to a radical new surveillance gizmo, one that allows total, 360-degree visual and audio of the city. But since it's so data-heavy, it takes a full 4 1/2 days to render. The crafty Carlin quickly figures out that it's something more, that it's actually a window for looking into the past. The scientists explain that nothing material can actually travel through this window, and certainly a human would meet his demise. So, of course, Carlin volunteers. Director Scott, whose last film, Domino, assaulted the senses with its jumping-bean pyrotechnics, tones it down here. But since he's not the most intellectual filmmaker on the planet (film buffs like to joke that his brother, Ridley, got all the brains and talent), he can't quite figure out the important chronological markers to make this story work. In other words, we're dealing with a lag of 4 1/2 days, but the film never really sticks to that mark. Back to the Future, for example, mapped out each milestone clearly and carefully so that it earned its payoff. Déjà Vu merely blunders through its plot, hoping no one will notice. Other devices, such as a remote head-set that extends the radius of the main station, don't make sense. The main point is the chases, anyway, as Carlin matches wits with the bomber, Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel). We've got running, jumping, explosions and blood. It probably never occurred to Scott that a movie like Primer was possible—pure sci-fi, exploring the ideas and ramifications behind time travel itself, rather than exploiting it for the sake of a timely terrorist story and a hackneyed romance. I get the feeling I've seen all this before.

Movie Times Déjà Vu (PG-13; 128 min.), directed by Tony Scott, written by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, photographed by Paul Cameron and starring Denzel Washington and Paula Patton, opens Nov. 22.

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