Dir: Tony Scott. US. 2006.128mins.
The latest thriller from producer Jerry Bruckheimerand director Tony Scott, Deja Vu bites off more than it can stylishlyblow up in trying to turn a terrorist attack into back-story fodder for atime-travel tale. But its greatest weakness is making the usually charismatic Denzel Washington seem a confused and passive presence in aplot he has trouble controlling.
Opening against the renewedJames Bond franchise, as represented by CasinoRoyale, Deja Vu maystruggle for its share of holiday-season action-movie business when it opens inthe US this weekend, where it is likely to have a strong first weekend before facingserious drop-off. Indeed, it may be pushed to top the $130m worldwide enjoyedby the last Scott-Washington pairing, ManOn Fire (2004), which was more straightforward and did not feature plottwists that left audiences wondering whether they had been watching a contemporarypolitical thriller, a highly-polished action film or a sci-fi fantasy.
Rather, Deja Vu most closely resembles Bruckheimer/Scott's Enemy Of The State in its tautly edited,slick fascination with the world as seen through surveillance cameras. But thatfilm, which opened on Thanksgiving holiday in 1998 (and went on to gross $251mworldwide), was more urgently suspenseful and had a youthfully energeticperformance from Will Smith.
Overseas, where Man On Firetook slightly more than in the US, audiences may be less bothered about theterrorist acts committed on New Orleans and regard Deja Vu simply as a showcase action feature.
It was said in the aftermathof 9/11 that the days of Hollywood's terrorism-fantasy movies were over. But Deja Vu, from the imaginations ofscreenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio (Shrek and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), seems to herald areturn to that era.
It opens with a complexlymasterful and virtually dialogue-free sequence, in which a terrorist blows up acrowded ferry and kills more than 500 people. It's realistic enough to behorrifying, with cars falling into the water, dying soldiers aflame and mobile phonesringing from body bags. It's also impressionistic enough in its editing andlayered sound to be studied as film art. In particular it uses music, from amilitary brass band to the Beach Boys' poignant Don't Worry Baby, to build and heighten emotion.
Investigator Doug Carlin(Washington) then enters the scene. When the body of Claire Kuchever(Patton) washes ashore, it becomes apparent that there are similarities betweenher death and the terrorist's modus operandi, and Carlin promises her grievingfather that he will investigate.
It soon transpires that agroup of university-connected scientists have perfected video technology thatallows them to look back into the recent past - and potentially identify theterrorist before he strikes.
Carlin is thus able to see Claireand become 'involved' with her. For a while, these scenes have anintriguing and haunting, even sexy, quality to them a la Rear Window, as investigator and techies watch their subject talkon the phone, get dressed and follow her daily routine. And when Claire sensestheir presence from the future spying on her, Deja Vu feels as scary as a sci-fi movie.
But it's at this point thatthe cracks really start to show in the plotting, for while the film's set-up isvery much to genre standard, it suffers from such overkill that it's hard forthe audience to feel any vested connection.
There is, for example, an excitingcar chase that encapsulates the film's potential and its problems, as Carlin (inthe present) chases after the terrorist (in the recent past), guided by hiscrew as he careers through traffic. It's as testosterone-charged as car chasesget, but it also goes on far longer than is plausible and ruins the tense,supernatural mood of what had come before.
Eventually Deja Vu gets bogged down in trying toexplain all that's happening, both to Carlin and to the audience. Ultimately itbecomes simplistic and even corny, as when Carlin has to strip to his boxersand T-shirt and climb inside a time machine in order to travel in time and saveClaire.
Denzel Washington often feels lost, and his romantic sceneswith the beguiling Paula Patton lack heat. The messianic terrorist is played byJim Caviezel, star of the similar but far better Frequency (2000); the makers of Deja Vu would have been wise to have studiedthat feature more in order to learn how to handle such a tricky storylinewithout getting lost.
Like the recent The Guardian, Deja Vu was shot in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,with several overhead shots showing the devastated neighbourhoods.
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio