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With: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson, Erika Alexander, Bruce Greenwood, Rich Hutchman, Matt Craven
Written by: Bill Marsilii, Terry Rossio
Directed by: Tony Scott
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality
Running Time: 128
Date: 11/20/2006

Deja Vu (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Agony of Repeat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If you pay careful attention, you'll notice the little hiccup during Jerry Bruckheimer's logo -- the one with the lightning storm over the lonely road -- at the head of the new film Deja 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 playing around or 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 (A Wrinkle in Time, Dune, etc.), has very little to do with "déjà vu."

In the film, Denzel Washington -- who has logged so many hours playing various police officials, detectives and authority figures, 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 over 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 four and a half 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, and certainly a human would meet his demise. So, of course, Carlin volunteers.

Director Tony 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 four and a half days, but the film never really sticks to that mark. Back to the Future (1985), for example, mapped out each milestone clearly and carefully so that it earned its payoff. Deja Vu merely blunders through its plot, hoping no one will notice.

Other devices, such as a remote headset that extends the radius of the main station, just do not make any sense. The main point is the chases, anyway, as Carlin matches wits with the bomber, right wing radical Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel). We've got car chases and crashes, running, jumping, explosions, guns and blood, all set to the tune of a dreadful score by Harry Gregson-Williams.

It probably never occurred to Scott and writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio that a movie like Primer (2004) 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/bombing story and a hackneyed romance. I get the feeling I've seen all this before. Deja Vu

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