Denzel Washington adds a considerable charge to Déjà Vu, a polished and at times gripping thriller with sci-fi overtones. Centered around the bombing of a crowded ferry in New Orleans, the film skirts some touchy issues in its quest to entertain. But director Tony Scott’s energy and skill overwhelm questions of taste and plot inconsistencies, helping elevate Déjà Vu into a large-scale and extremely good-looking adventure.
Scott blows up the Alvin Stumpf ferry in the opening credits of the film, a ploy that gives subsequent events a dramatic weight they might not otherwise have had. When Washington arrives as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Doug Carlin, the film settles into a comfortable CSI mode, albeit an incredibly expensive and detailed version of the show. The forensics material, intriguing and occasionally gory, is carried by Washington’s portrayal of a tough but affable agent who is an expert at his profession. Clues quickly convince police and Federal agents that the ferry explosion was deliberately set. A corpse that washed ashore sends Carlin on a different tangent.
The corpse is identified as Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), and while investigating her life, Carlin uncovers evidence that throws the entire bombing into a different light. In fact, a light much like that explored in films like The Terminator, Paycheck, and other time-travel stories. As Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) explains, satellite surveillance and massive amounts of power enable scientists on a top-secret program to peer roughly four days into the past. He wants Carlin to use the program to stop the bombing; Carlin wonders if he could also save Claire’s life.
Writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio treat this aspect of the story with gee-whiz intensity and relatively straight faces, although lines like “We could warp the very fabric of space” is about as far as they explore the consequences of time travel. The surveillance footage is like watching another audience watch a movie, more voyeuristic than interesting despite Paula Patton’s warm performance. Once Washington’s character enters the past, the film inevitably loses a lot of its logic and credibility. With the bombing about to take place, for example, why does Carlin stop to wash up and change clothes?
Scott’s job is to keep the story moving despite the script’s plot holes, and he accomplishes this in part with sophisticated camerawork and editing. Through sheer, dogged determination, the film even includes a chase that takes place in two separate dimensions. Despite all odds, it is exciting and somehow believable.
Scott’s focus, or insistence, on constant motion gives Déjà Vu a propulsive drive most thrillers lack. He may be the last director who still cares about how people get in and out of cars, but every movement and gesture in the film helps build its momentum. Déjà Vu wouldn’t succeed as well without Denzel Washington, whose assured, appealing acting almost guarantees a worthwhile film.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Adam Goldberg, Matt Craven, Elden Henson, Jim Caviezel, Erika Alexander, Donna Scott, Elle Fanning, Brian Howe, Enrique Castillo.
Directed by Tony Scott. Written by Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Barry Waldman. Director of photography: Paul Cameron. Production designer: Chris Seagers. Edited by Chris Lebenzon. Costume designer: Ellen Mirojnick. Music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. Music supervisor: Bob Badami. A Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation of a Scott Free production.
Touchstone/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/126 Mins./Rated PG-13