With two lines of dialogue, The Matrix had more to say about the phenomenon of deja vu than an entire movie with the same title.
ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is investigating a harbor ferry explosion in New Orleans. While looking for clues that might suggest that this was a terrorist attack and not just an accident, Doug meets Agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer), a government man with access to the latest in high-tech criminal investigation technology: a mysterious window that can look four days into the past. Faster than you can say “flux capacitor,” our heroes spend way too much time debating about what they shouldn’t do with what they can do, and the end result falls very short of the implications of Deja Vu.
First of all, this film has ZERO to do with “the phenomenon of deju vu” or any mystery surrounding it. As such, the title reeks of studio afterthought, the kind of thing they got away with for White Noise but proof that the people producing these films have almost no clue about their actual content. A better title would have been “Big Brother is Watching,” because if you think someone is looking over your shoulder (according to this film), something bad really is about to happen to you.
There are three story components that needed to succeed to pull this film off. The first was the romantic stuff with Denzel and the dead “babe,” Paula Patton, a young actress blessed with Halle Berry’s good looks but given little else to do but stare longingly at Denzel (good for her, bad for us). The second was suspending the disbelief in the science fiction that made the action and plot possible, which is about as plausible as shining a laser pointer at a live television broadcast ON THE TELEVISION and having the studio audience gasp when they see it in the studio. Lastly was the conspiracy theory and villainy behind the plot’s motivation, one that Jim Caviezel was given but nothing was done with. Only one of these was realized successfully (the romantic bits, of course) while the rest twitched like fresh roadkill.
While there’s plenty of excuses for car chases, action sequences, explosions, and cargnage, the story feels like an after thought. Of course, it is possible that a better version of this film was shot but never made it through editing. It’s also possible the shooting script was considerably better than what got shot. What made it onto the screen, however, was barely passable as a coherent story let alone a finished product. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind seeing Denzel playing yet another cop too absorbed in his work to notice the heroine until he’s blown up half the sets for the movie, you’ll probably like this, too. For the rest of us who remember the implausible and half-finished Virtuosity (starring Washington and a virtually unknown Russell Crowe), you’ll know exactly what to avoid. Interestingly, Virtuosity is one of those little films you do on the way up the ladder; here’s hoping films like Deja Vu isn’t what Washington’s getting stuck with on the way back down.
(a one and a half skull recommendation out of four)