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"DÉJÀ VU"
(2006) (Denzel Washington, Paula Patton) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: Following its initial occurrence several days earlier, a government agent tries to stop the bombing of a ferry from happening for the first time by altering the events leading up to it.
PLOT:
The bombing of a large ferry has just occurred in New Orleans, so hometown AFT agent Doug Carlin (DENZEL WASHINGTON) is immediately on the scene. Meeting FBI agent Pryzwarra (VAL KILMER) and his boss Jack McCready (BRUCE GREENWOOD), Doug seeks out the small details for clues, all of which leads him to a morgue where he views the body of Claire Kuchever (PAULA PATTON). She's seemingly one of the ferry victims, but Doug becomes suspicious when he hears her body was reported before the explosion.

Seeing how Doug is with deciphering clues, Pryzwarra recruits him to be part of their investigatory team. It seems the government has found a way to look into the immediate past, and with technicians including Dr. Alexander Denny (ADAM GOLDBERG) and Shanti (ERIKA ALEXANDER) manning the consoles, they might be able to spot the killer before he commits the already executed attack.

Thinking Claire is the key, Doug has them focus on surveillance footage of her and her apartment, an act that intrigues him even more when he realizes a previous phone message he got from a work associate, Kevin Donnelly (MARK PHINNEY), was from Claire, someone he doesn't previously know, or so he thinks.

Accordingly, Doug becomes obsessed with solving the case, particularly as he becomes fixated on Paula and having heard that his partner, Larry Minuti (MATT CRAVEN), might have been on the ferry that will blow up again in the past. Once they identify the bomber as Carroll Oerstadt (JIM CAVIEZEL), it's a race against time to stop him from repeating the act in the past, all while Doug and the rest aren't even sure they can have such an effect.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
The problem with some films is that they take themselves too seriously, particularly when they have no right to do so. That's especially true the more outlandish the premise, such as when sci-fi elements are suddenly thrown into otherwise contemporary stories.

Such is the case in "Déjà Vu," the latest film from director Tony Scott who hasn't seen a camera shot, edit, or dose of testosterone he didn't think he could hijack, pump up, and write off as his own. Thankfully, such overzealousness is partly held in check in this thriller (unlike his last film, "Domino"), but the outlandishness of the rest of it more than makes up for the omissions.

The story starts off with a literal and figurative bang as a New Orleans based ferry containing members of the military, business folk, and everyday people (including kids) explodes en route. Presumably an act of terrorism, it obviously means the usual government types are there, but that also includes ATF agent Doug Carlin. A local, he's ignoring the booze and smokes part of his agency, and instead focuses on the firepower behind the act (firearms being an all-encompassing term that also includes explosives).

His attention, however, is focused on a body that washed up nearby, seemingly from the blast except that it was found before the incident occurred. Believing the body was planted, Doug starts digging deeper, with his investigation drawing somewhat concerned looks from some of the other government types.

That's because -- do you hear the outlandishness suddenly welling up to the surface? -- they're up to the usual top-secret spy stuff, although this time it has a twist. And that's where Scott and screenwriters Bill Marsilii &Terry Rossio fail the viewer. While it's believable the government wouldn't want to reveal exactly what they're doing, the explanation of what Doug suddenly finds himself involved in gives the term "ridiculous" a bad name.

As explained by a wasted (as in underused, not blotto) Val Kilmer and more specifically Adam Goldberg (as one of those nerdy and cynical but brilliant types forever near a keyboard), the government can tap into surveillance footage from satellites, not from the present but the past. The temporal gap is conveniently long enough that they're now watching events from before the blast, meaning they might be able to see who's responsible.

However, you might ask, wouldn't it be awfully convenient that the cameras would happen to be on the perp in the days, hours, and moments leading up to the event? Well, as we learn along with Doug, the government can move the surveillance shot around to anywhere they want and from any angle. Better yet, they can see through walls and have their computers recreate what was occurring inside anyplace, complete with audio.

By this time, the film -- which had me interested from the get-go -- completely lost me, not in terms of what was occurring, but in believing any of it. To make matters worse, the government types eventually confess what they're really doing -- time traveling back a few days with some sort of unmanned technology that lets them peer into the past, albeit in a linear fashion and only within a certain geographic area.

While still preposterous, at least that's not as bad as the earlier explanation, and the filmmakers would have done themselves and viewers a favor by jettisoning the subterfuge and just getting straight to the point. By playing the first answer in complete seriousness, anyone watching will be taken out of the proceedings to ponder the ludicrousness of it all. If they had just explained what they were really up to, not only would they have saved some time, but it also would have been easier to swallow. After all, as Michael York's character told the title character (and then the audience) about time travel in "Austin Powers in Goldmember," it's best not to think too hard about it and just go with the flow.

As neither explanation comes as anything of a huge plot surprise (beyond the abrupt absurdity of the first part), nothing's been ruined by revealing either. In fact, knowing that going in actually helps the film as viewers can then sit back, turn off their brain, and enjoy what turns out to be a fairly entertaining ride.

Sure there are holes as well as the overall time travel conundrum that's bedeviled many a screenwriter (including yours truly). Yet, if you don't utilize too much higher brain functioning, Doug's efforts to save the girl (Paula Patton) and stop the villain (Jim Caviezel), all while watching various temporal events fold back in, around, and onto themselves become quite engaging.

A lot of that stems from Washington's presence and effortless performance that combine to make one root for his success. He and Scott have previously collaborated on "Man on Fire" and "Crimson Tide" so they seem (at least based on the results) comfortable working together in these sorts of dramatic thrillers.

And that includes the film's signature moment where Washington's character ends up in a two-time zone chase after the villain where a special headset allows him to see the past (where he's pursuing the bad guy) while he's driving in the present, all going down the same roads. No, it doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny, but, like the rest of the film, it's nevertheless a rather fun and invigorating ride, as long as you don't think it.. "Déjà Vu" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed November 8, 2006/ Posted November 22, 2006


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