Deja Vu (review)

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False Advertising All Over Again

I hope if you plunked down your ten bucks for Deja Vu this weekend that you stormed out of the theater when it was over and demanded you money back from the multiplex manager. Cuz this is one of the worst instances of the false adverstising of a movie that I can remember. All that rot about the weird feeling of thinking you’ve met someone before and how there’s clues in the sensation to how it’s not just a feeling after all? What a load of rubbish. None of it — none — bears even the remotest resemblance to the actual film. No one in the film even experiences the feeling of deja vu as far as we can see, never mind attempts to unravel some secret mysterious plane of existence the feeling of deja vu was promised to be hinting at.
But you can see why the producers or the studio or whoever felt it was necessary to try to fool potential audiences in thinking there’d be all sorts of supernatural hoo-hah in Deja Vu — even to the point of calling the film Deja Vu when it has abso-freakin’-lutely nothing whatsoever to do with deja vu — because all that is there is a watery soup of leftovers from Tony Scott’s very similar (and far superior) Enemy of the State with a little bit of awful time travel nonsense thrown in for good measure. And the misleading advertising keeps you interested in the film far longer than you would have been otherwise, cuz you keep telling yourself, Okay, soon, surely, the deja vu thing is gonna kick in, and then the movie will start being cool, if only in a cheesy way, right?

It doesn’t get off to a bad start, actually — though only, again, because you’re waiting for the neat-o spooky stuff to start — with a terrorist attack that blows up a ferry in New Orleans. It’s not the explosion per se that makes it all not-so-bad, though Scott does lead into it with pretty effective supermelodramatic mush about soldiers happy to be on leave… except you know they’re all gonna die! and little girls who drop their dolls into the water… like a pre-vision of little girls who’ll soon be floating in the water — that kind of obviousness that you get caught up in anyway. No, it’s the smart way that the film draws you right into the realm of Denzel Washington’s (Inside Man, The Manchurian Candidate) ATF agent Doug Carlin, who comes in to investigate: The movie assumes that we understand what Doug is doing, without having to have it explained to us, when he’s poking around the debris that has washed up on the riverbank. The movie assumes we’re at least familiar enough with fake-TV and fake-movie crime-scene investigation procedures that when Doug looks from the riverbank up toward a nearby bridge that he’s thinking, That’s where the perp watched from. Not, you know, Citizen Kane-smart stuff or anything, but still: Deja Vu — or whatever it was called before some wiseass in marketing thought we’d be fooled for long by that title — is not out to insult our intelligence. (Screenwriter Terry Rossio has helped write some kick-ass movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and Shrek, though his cowriter, Bill Marsilii, has only some bad kids TV to his credit.)

But the rest of the movie can’t keep up with that. Not that it gets dumbed down, but it’s simply not very exciting — it gets too mired in police procedure, even when Doug gets called in to assist the top-secret team of geeks using a brand-new technology to investigate the bombing. (Val Kilmer and Bruce Greenwood are totally wasted as the program’s big cheeses.) It seems some genius stumbled over a way to look back into the past precisely four days and a couple of hours — with their big-ass computers and geeky wisecracks, they can look anywhere at anyone. Like at the life of the woman (Paula Patton: Idlewild, Hitch) whose body washed up on the riverbank after the bombing, burned and seemingly a ferry victim, who — the coroner determines — was actually dead before the bomb went off. Carlin is convinced she is somehow connected to the crime, another victim of the bomber, maybe, so they watch her in order to get a handle on the perp.

And I do mean watch — they watch her in the shower, they watch her in bed, they watch her everywhere. There is nowhere and nothing the geeks’ toy cannot show, as long as it’s within range of their toy and it’s precisely four days and a couple hours ago. Now, this does lead to a car chase involving a portable looking-four-days-and-a-couple-hours-into-the-past thingie that allows the chaser and the chasee to be separated in time, which results in one of the most dynamic action sequences I’ve seen in quite a while, really tense and exciting stuff. But it’s just a gimmick, and worse: it’s a gimmick with a horrifying concept behind it: that absolute, total, warrantless, privacy-busting all-encompassing surveillance is what we need to catch terrorists.

Now I’ve got a shivery feeling of deja vu — haven’t I heard that somewhere before? — but I don’t think that’s the kind of creeping out anyone involved had in mind for us.

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Wed, Nov 29, 2006 11:01am

The phenomenon of Deja Vu is caused by experiencing something and having it immeadiatly go into your long-term memory instead of hitting your short term. In that sense, Deja Vu makes a little sense because there are all these signs of Denzel having been there before, without having been there before, if you catch my drift. However, I was far more concerned with the way it ended than the problem of trying to figure out the naming of the film. Let’s just say it creates a really big paradox that time travel movies never seem to think about (except Back to the Future).