[Screen It]

(2000) (Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: Having made contact with his long dead father via a ham radio that has managed to transmit and receive signals from thirty years into the past, a present day cop saves his father from an untimely death, but both must then deal with the repercussions of that act that changes both the past and present.
Thirty years after his fireman father, Frank (DENNIS QUAID), was killed in the line of duty, thirty-six-year-old John Sullivan (JIM CAVIEZEL) is a detective who, along with his partner, Satch (ANDRE BRAUGHER), is investigating a previously unsolved, decades old serial murder case that's just been reopened upon the unearthing of the skeleton of one of the past victims.

Despite what sounds like a promising and rewarding career, John's life has been in near constant turmoil since his father's death. All of that's about to change, however, when his childhood friend, Gordon Hersch (NOAH EMMERICH), and his son come by for a visit and find Frank's old ham radio. With a recent flare-up of the aurora borealis, the signals end up traveling a long distance - all the way back to 1969 -- and John suddenly finds himself talking to his father in that year.

Once the two realize and then accept what's happening, they not only catch up on old - and new - times, but John realizes he can save his father's life since he knows when and how Frank perished. While eventually successful at that, John then realizes that their actions have changed another aspect of the past.

With the number of murders from that past serial case suddenly increasing, John realizes that they've done something that allowed the 1969 killer to continue his spree. From that point on, John and Frank team up as a set of long distance partners and try to stop the killer, although every action they take creates another change in the future and threatens their and others' safety, including that of John's mother, Julia (ELIZABETH MITCHELL).

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
If there's one topic that fuels the imagination of sci-fi fans, writers and any number of late night rap sessions over coffee in college, it's the thought of time travel. Ever since H.G. Wells wrote his provocative 1895 novel, "The Time Machine," all sorts of people have pondered the logistics, practicality and moral ramifications of traveling through time.

Of course, Welles' work primarily focused on going forward through time and seeing what the future would bring. Yet, the more interesting - and trouble laden - aspect is traveling backwards into the past. Doing so brings up many issues, including the long-debated theoretical one of a time traveler meeting and somehow being responsible for the death of his or her grandfather.

That's where the physical conundrum develops around the fact that if one's grandfather didn't live, then the time traveler never would have been born and thus couldn't have gone back in time and caused the grandparent's death. Such a circular dilemma can obviously make the mind reel and has created various plot related problems for writers (including yours truly) who have tried to fashion such stories that abide by the rules (as if a concrete set of them really exist in the first place).

Thus, writers of such fiction eventually figured out that the solution to such a problem was the development of the parallel universe concept. That's where such a catalyst creates another timeline that splinters off from the first. That new line then runs parallel and identical with the first, save for the changes created by the catalyst, and therefore eliminates the cause and effect problems.

The filmmakers behind the latest such film, "Frequency," decided to employ something of a combination of both approaches, although they added another twist to the genre - no physical time travel ever takes place. Instead, and playing off a similar notion found in 1998's made for TV movie, "The Love Letter," the connection between the past and present takes place via an old ham radio (instead of the less immediate postal letters used in that Jennifer Jason Leigh/Scott Campbell picture).

It also has similarities to "Field of Dreams," most notably for the use of baseball as a theme and plot element used to rekindle a father/son relationship with the present day son finally getting to meet (in a roundabout way) the long dead father he barely knew.

Just as was the case with that Kevin Costner film, that's probably the most satisfying element the film has to offer. The relationship between the characters embodied by Dennis Quaid ("Any Given Sunday," "Switchback") and Jim Caviezel ("Ride With the Devil," "The Thin Red Line") truly feels heartfelt and credible, and for anyone who's either wished to speak once more to a deceased parent or simply wondered what they were like when they were younger and/or before time wore them down, the film hits those notes just right.

To keep things from getting or feeling too sappy, however, director Gregory Hoblit ("Fallen," "Primal Fear") and screenwriters Toby Emmerich (who makes his screenwriting debut after serving as New Line Cinema's Director of Music) throw in a serial killer plot that itself has its own twist.

Not only is the detective work done via long distance (and we mean the frustration-inducing kind that not even Ma Bell could run enough phone lines to make the connection), but the related plot elements also keep changing with every step John and his father take in solving the case (that result in near continual changes to the past and subsequent present).

The advantage of that is that it keeps the otherwise standard, mundane and predictable serial killer plot interesting, but it also adds for some fun moments regarding the father & son team physically communicating (via instantaneous carvings on a tabletop) as well as sharing evidence (in what has to the film's best and most enjoyable moment).

As with most time travel stories, however, or at least the ones that go in reverse, there are all sorts of related logistical problems to changes that would occur in the present and/or how characters would react or be influenced by them. The first is obviously that any sort of incidental contact in the past would most likely have a snowball effect of changing the past and thus the future.

For instance, just having John talking to his father would thus cause the latter to do something different, which in turn would have some sort of effect on another person, and so on and so on. The ramifications could be large or small (although after thirty years they'd probably be the former) and they'd obviously directly affect the present day protagonist.

That's when the parallel universe partially comes into play as the present day protagonist here conveniently has knowledge and/or memories of how things once were and then of how they've changed, while no one else shares that ability. Of course, it's a much needed commodity and plot element - or else the protagonist wouldn't be very effective at his goal if he could no longer remember it, or worse yet, was suddenly a sheep farmer instead of a detective - but it does put some strain on the old credibility factor.

As with any time travel type film, however, one should always try to heed the advice of Michael York's character in the second "Austin Powers" film where he points out to Austin (who's just announced that he's gone cross-eyed over the circular notions), "I'd suggest you don't worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself" (to which he then looks at the camera - and thus the audience - and continues, "That goes for you all too"). It's good advice because it's next to impossible to create a perfectly credible time travel flick and while it's easy to pick apart the films with such problems, that's something best done after it's over.

While the interconnected past and present, along with the ever-evolving serial killer element, are what keep the film interesting and entertaining, the performances are what give it some heart and soul. As earlier stated, the long distance relationship between the characters played by Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel is very satisfying and at times moving due to both actors delivering strong performances.

Supporting performances, form the likes of Andre Braugher ("City of Angels," TV's "Homicide: Life on the Street") as John's cop partner, Elizabeth Mitchell (the HBO film "Gia") as his mother and Noah Emmerich ("The Truman Show," "Beautiful Girls") as his best friend, are all solid.

Although the film starts off a bit slowly and is a bit obvious in its early foreshadowing of things to come, it eventually picks up a good head of steam and turns into an engaging and satisfying thriller. Despite the seemingly requisite and time travel related inconsistencies in logic, and a somewhat convoluted but standard, happy ending, it seems probable that most viewers, once they lock in on this particular "Frequency," will probably enjoy what they hear, and see. We give the film a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 15, 2000 / Posted April 28, 2000

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