Thursday, April 26, 2007

Deja Vu

Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Bruce Greenwood

Running Time: 128 min.

Rating: PG-13

**1/2 (out of ****)

Deja Vu
is a routine action movie that hides behind a self-important facade of intelligence. The movie thinks it's clever when actually it's rather silly. It moves along briskly and is entertaining at times, but when it was over I was left wondering what the point of this was, besides making the studio money. The title is appropriate because when you're watching this film you won't be able to shake the feeling you've seen it a thousand times before. It's The Lake House meets Minority Report, but with more explosions and ammunition.

The film is directed by Tony Scott (Enemy of the State, Man On Fire) and is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which is an open invitation for all kinds of jokes. In all fairness, when Scott and Bruckheimer are on their game few are better at making a fun, popcorn action movie. Unfortunately though, they've been slipping and their collaborations have gotten progressively worse over the years to the point where it now feels like they're just phoning it in. Scott always had a strong visual sense as a director (which is on broad display here) and the first hour of this film is actually quite good. For a while you think it's actually going to be one of Scott's better efforts, until mindless nonsense and silliness take over in the second half.

Denzel Washington is ATF Agent Doug Carlin, who's hand picked by FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) to investigate the bombing of a ferry carrying more than 500 military personnel and their families off the shores of post-Katrina New Orleans. He soon discovers a connection between the bombing and the dead body of a woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) that washed up on shore earlier that morning.

Through the use of new advanced surveillance technology they're able to look into the past (exactly four days and six hours) on a giant screen. This device has its limits. It excludes the ability to rewind, is limited in scope and other complicated details the script seems to make up as it goes along, so much so that it begins to become frustrating and ridiculous. That's a shameful distraction because it's at this point the movie actually makes me think it may have more up its sleeve than I expected. They use this window into the past to track Claire, hoping it will lead them to the bomber. It does, but something else happens to. Doug becomes obsessed with her (Vertigo style) and the movie hints at the morality of invading this woman's life and tinkering with the past.

There are really some good ideas going on here that you can't wait to be fully explored. I actually thought this thing was headed into Hitchcock territory. It had the potential to. Unfortunately we're reminded at the worst possible moment that this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production and the movies completely flies off the rails. We have a silly car chase sequence that's not really a car chase because no one's chasing anything since the characters are in two different time periods (don't even ask). We're also out of nowhere given the revelation that this device not only allows you to look into the past but to travel into it as well. How convenient. I wouldn't mind if the movie just made its rules clear early on, but instead they withhold information and then bring it up for the convenience of the plot when necessary.

When Carlin does travel back in time to prevent to try and prevent both the girl's death and the horrible ferry bombing the movie does contain some exciting, if completely standard, action sequences in its third act. I also have to admit I liked the way the movie brought up visual details from the beginning of the story to show that while Carlin may believe he's changing the future, he's just fulfilling destiny and not changing a thing. That was kind of clever. The whole premise is kind of clever actually, which is why it's so disappointing that the movie contains no surprises and falls back on typical action clich├ęs. I recently posted a list of my favorite twist endings in movie history. If there's such thing as an opposite of a twist ending, this is it. I was not only able to predict the exact ending of this film (which doesn't mean it makes any more sense), but was able to call everything right down to the last lines of dialogue spoken by the characters.

I love time travel movies, but lately I've noticed a disturbing trend going on in Hollywood where the time travel element is just being used as a device to give us explosive action scenes. There's no attention given to the nuances of the idea or the development of characters. It's almost as if producers have gotten the idea these past few years that time travel makes a great excuse for things being blown up and people getting shot. If they can fit a hot looking girl whose life needs to be saved in there then that's an added bonus. Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps all the good, original ideas for time travel have run dry and this is all we have left. Maybe I should just make do. Even if that's true and I do acknowledge these kinds of movies can be fun, this one has enough plot holes to drive Mack truck through.

I also have to say I'm officially sick of seeing of seeing Denzel Washington in these parts. People are complaining about Nicholas Cage and his non-stop streak of action movies (which now includes a similarly themed movie to this one called Next opening this week), but Washington has been worse. He's been playing the same exact cop or detective character in the same action movie for the past 10 films. Try remembering the last time he starred as anything other than a cop. He's great at it but it's really about time he move on to something new at this point. He's too good an actor for this. I'd really like to see him in more interesting, challenging roles and I have a feeling I'm not alone on that.

A couple of weeks ago I rented a 2005 movie called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Val Kilmer and he gave what was easily the best performance of his career in a really interesting role. Imagine what a shame it is then to see him slumming it here as a character that could pretty much be summed up as "control room guy." It's a completely throwaway, useless paycheck part that could have been played by anyone and serves no function in the story other than to get a big name actor on the marquee.

The bombing suspect is played by Jim Caviezel, who's a good actor but is given nothing to do here but emote menacingly and shoot a lot of guns. Ironically the best performance of the film belongs to Paula Patton, who with limited screen time makes you understand why Washington's character would be obsessed with her, even if the screenplay doesn't. She has a strong screen presence and you get the feeling if she were asked to do more she'd be able to pull it off, but unfortunately the character is hurt by the fact that her involvement in the story is purely coincidental. When this film was released there was a big hoopla that it was the first film to shoot in New Orleans on the heels of Hurricane Katrina and there's even a dedication to the spirit of the people of the city at the end of the film. That's a nice gesture, but it would have been an even nicer gesture had a more intelligent movie accompanied it.

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