Deja Vu

Deja Vu feels vaguely familiar; Denzel just can't sell the plot

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 24, 2006 

At some point in the development process, "Deja Vu" may have wanted to be "Somewhere in Time" for the computer generation.

But since it was directed by Tony ("Top Gun") Scott, it has become a sci-fi action picture — loud, noisy and not nearly as smart as it thinks it is.

A bomb blows up a New Orleans ferry packed with Mardi Gras celebrants, killing 500.

Investigating ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) encounters a conundrum: the body of one of the presumed victims, a young woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), is found so far away from the site of the explosion that it could only have been placed there before the terrorist act.

Carlin concludes that Claire was killed by the bomber, who then used her car to get the explosives onto the ferry. If he can follow Claire's last days, Carlin believes, the trail will lead him to the bad guy.

So far it's a conventional crime movie.

Not for long.

We learn along with Carlin that the FBI has secret technology allowing it to actually view the past.

Let me repeat that: The feds can now look into the past.

This new system provides a videostream of what happened four days ago as if it's happening now. It's like watching a live TV broadcast — you can't freeze it or back it up or speed forward.

But you can assume almost any perspective, which allows the investigators to "enter" Claire's apartment to watch her as the clock clicks down to the moment of her death.

Carlin and the others eavesdrop on Claire feeding her cat, cooking her meals and taking a shower — and it isn't really perverse voyeurism because it's all in the name of national security.

Possibly screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio meant for this to be a sly commentary on Big Brother eavesdropping in the post-Patriot Act era. If so, it doesn't stick. Mostly their convoluted science-fiction mumbo jumbo induces a headache.

Anyway, Carlin finds himself falling in love with Claire even though he's never met her, and finally he uses the technology to project himself four days into the past so that he can prevent her death.

It's all terribly silly, with the tongue-twisting sci-fi talk punctuated with car chases, shootouts, explosions, tons of flashing red and blue lights and a camera that is forever circling around Washington like an orbiting satellite.

The most interesting performance in the movie comes from James Caviezel (best known as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ") as the terrorist.

The role is patently ridiculous, but the actor somehow manages to sell the character.

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