(Touchstone) Denzel Washington, Jim Caviezel, Val Kilmer, Bruce Greenwood, Matt Craven, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg, Donna Scott, Elle Fanning, Elden Henson, Erika Alexander. Directed by Tony Scott
Have you ever gotten the feeling that you’ve seen a movie before, even as you’re watching it for the first time? It’s not necessarily something a filmmaker wants their audience to feel, but sometimes there’s no help for it.
It’s Fat Tuesday in post-Katrina New Orleans, and the Algiers ferry bound for the Crescent City is full of sailors and partygoers bound and determined to have a great time. Not too far into the voyage, a car on the ferry explodes, setting off a chain reaction and a second, more damaging explosion and the Ferry goes down to the bottom of Lake Ponchatrain. The catastrophe kills men, women and children in a city which is already reeling from a hurricane that has all but destroyed it.
ATF investigator Doug Carlin (Washington) is called to the scene to determine whether the explosion was a deliberate act. While the FBI, local police and other agencies are squabbling, Carlin – possessed of a cat-quick mind and the ability to instantly see the compelling evidence – quickly determines that the cause of the explosion was, in fact, a bomb, making it a deliberate act of terrorism.
Carlin’s style irritates some of his colleagues, although FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Kilmer) finds him amusing and impressive. Pryzwarra’s boss (Greenwood) agrees and when a burned body washes up onshore in an area that would put it in the water a full two hours before the Ferry disaster, the FBI and Carlin realize that the key to solving this mystery lies with finding out what happened to the beautiful woman (Patton) lying on the coroner’s table. To do this, Carlin is brought into a highly sensitive experiment that may allow a quick-thinking investigator like Carlin a second chance at seeing what really happened, but also change his life forever.
Scott and Washington are reunited for the first time since the two made Crimson Tide and the stylish Scott knows how to use his leading man ably, even though Denzel is getting a little bit long in the tooth for these kinds of roles. The premise of by observing the past being able to affect it is one not new to science fiction literature or movies (heck, “The Twilight Zone” basically made a living on just that kind of conundrum) and in all honesty, Déjà Vu doesn’t add anything new to the dance.
However, Tony Scott is an adept action director and he doesn’t disappoint here, with a chase scene that has the two cars in different time periods, with Washington unable to see the car he is chasing and being guided along by his team back at the appropriately grungy looking lab. The climactic scenes pitting Washington and his love interest against the bad guy (a very un-Christlike Jim Caviezel) are played with appropriate tension. A lot of directors could take lessons from Scott in that regard – it’s not as easy a skill as it seems.
Scott is blessed with a very talented cast, including the criminally under-used Matt Craven as Carlin’s partner – this is an actor who deserves meatier roles – and also reunites Washington with Greenwood, both of whom got their starts on the “St. Elsewhere” television show so many years ago.
To the bad is the one bugaboo that plagues these kinds of time-tripping sci-fi actioners – the tendency for the plot to get muddled and confusing. Scott trumps this by making his characters real and then casts interesting actors to play them – Goldberg is particularly nifty as a science geek, and Patton makes a gorgeous corpse, but also a mighty fine love interest. The resolution seems a bit forced, but then if you think about these things too hard you can get migraines.
I kind of regret missing this in the multiplex, although it looked just fine on our medium-sized bedroom TV screen. To be fair, this isn’t a movie that’s really out to break new ground. It just wants its audience to have a good time, and at that, it’s successful. If you’re looking for something to rent that satisfies your Jones for action, you could do worse than this.
WHY RENT THIS: Some nice action sequences highlighted by some very big booms – gotta love things that blow up real good. The cast is top-notch. The climactic scenes ratchet up the tension.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot can be hard to follow. While tense, the resolution seems a bit forced and contrived.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of violence and some sensuality but otherwise okay for most audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: While the movie was in pre-production, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, forcing the producers to make a decision to shoot elsewhere, a move that director Tony Scott resisted. In the time that it took to reboot the production, New Orleans had recovered sufficiently to allow shooting there and pre-production resumed, allowing Deja Vu the distinction of being the first movie to film in New Orleans post-Katrina.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The Surveillance Window feature allows the director commentary to be fleshed out with video sequences that may also be viewed separately.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Everybody’s Fine