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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Film: DVD Review - Don't Do the Voodoo That Deja Vu Does

Washington tries to warn himself from taking a part in Deja Vu

The temptation when writing a review for a bad time travel movie is to suggest that had the reviewer got hold of whatever doohicky or cosmic force that allows for such travel, then they would surely have erased the 2 hours (give or take) of their lives devoted to watching said film and spent it on some more meaningful or less painful activity. That's very nearly the case with Tony Scott's would-be thriller Deja Vu. What the film has going for it is what I will hereby dub The Phonebook Effect.

A great actor is said to be able to move one to tears simply by reading the phonebook, and though no tears were shed in the watching of Deja Vu, Denzel Washington is most assuredly a great actor. He gives a lively, lucid, fully connected performance to what is a lousy, piecemeal screenplay full of gobbledygook. He even has good company in a cast studded with such watchable actors as Val Kilmer (ever more likable as he ages), Adam Goldberg (saddled with both comic relief and some of the worst pseudo-science dialogue in ages), Bruce Greenwood (wasted again as a bureaucrat) and two time crappy time travel movie survivor Elden Henson (better than in Butterfly Effect).

There's a scene in the movie that is pretty much standard issue. Our hero is bucking the orders of his superior and getting into a verbal back and forth. Bruce Greenwood, a terrific actor, isn't given much to hold onto character-wise but he does his bit. Denzel seems genuinely miffed but OK, that's what the man is paid for -- acting. But he hits this moment that feels so real that I questioned whether it was in the script. Greenwood pronounces the name of Washington's character -- Carlin -- to rhyme with marlin and Washington corrects him, peeved, "It's Carleeen..." It's a great moment and it feels totally real, unscripted. Too bad the rest of the film never feels that way.

The plot involves a terrorist who blows up a ferry laden with Norman Rockwell paintings come to life in New Orleans. Washington is the cop recruited to be part of a special team investigating what happened. This team has a special super-expensive top-secret way of looking into the past.
Washington is sure that hot corpse Paula Patton is the key to finding the terrorist and thus spends lots of government time and money watching her in the shower. Did I mention that his fingerprints are all over her apartment or her fridge magnets that spell out "U Can Save Her?" Or that charming voyeur Washington falls in love with Patton?

Washington discovers that our time snoopers aren't really using a sophisticated data collection program at all but are actually seeing the past through a conceit that is patently ridiculous. He shines a laser into the monitor his team is using to watch Patton babysit and floss her teeth (while a terrorist is on the loose) and she sees it. Washington doesn't want any of that science mumbo-jumbo when Goldberg tries to explain -- but I'm sitting there saying "Yes, yes, please explain the science!" It's not a monitor it's a --what? Monitor shaped window? Can a fly come in through the other side? How come when they send Washington back in time (duh-- you knew that was coming) he doesn't just step on through. If I shine a laser into my TV at home, will it blind my local newscaster?

Then there are the tonal problems. In what should be a big set piece Washington drives a Hummer recklessly and sends at least one car full of innocents careening through the air in a barely survivable fashion. In a Nicholas Cage movie (which this is tailor-made for) we would shrug and go on eating our popcorn because it's a cartoon (acting included). But it's hard to buy Denzel blithely motoring on, pausing only to suggest paramedics should be sent. Probably Tony Scott loved the shot and left it in. Essentially Deja Vu is really a body-switch movie in which Denzel Washington finds himself in a Nicholas Cage film.

So. we are stuck with a believable cast doing their best to sell a love story that doesn't make sense and a plot that makes even less sense. Which still puts it a step above The Butterfly Effect. Here's a clip of Denzel spouting silly dialogue like it actually means something. Notice how he avoids smashing the big pricey laser beam eating monitor:

Deja Vu gets 2 out of 5 Nic Cages:

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