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November 22, 2006 | Comments ()


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Right Now I'm Having Amnesia and Déjà Vu at the Same Time

Déjà Vu/ Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | November 22, 2006 | Comments ()


Honestly, I’ve never met a Denzel Washington flick that I couldn’t watch. The man has signed on to damn near as many clunkers (The Preacher’s Wife, The Manchurian Candidate) as he has remarkable films (Philadelphia, The Hurricane) but he’s never made anything so godawful wretched that his own presence couldn’t string a viewer along from opening to end credits. And there have been plenty of other films that he’s managed, single-handedly, to elevate from mediocre to the cusp of brilliance — He Got Game, Training Day, and Out of Time, to name a few.

With Déjà Vu, Washington is once again asked to lend that indelible screen presence to an otherwise unremarkable, far-fetched, almost silly Tony Scott flick, as he was asked to do with Man on Fire. And once again, Washington is the film’s only saving grace, injecting his charisma and gravitas into a silly adolescent cop/sci-fi fantasy.

With Déjà Vu, Washington is once again asked to lend that indelible screen presence to an otherwise unremarkable, far-fetched, almost silly Tony Scott flick, as he was asked to do with Man on Fire. And once again, Washington is the film’s only saving grace, injecting his charisma and gravitas into a silly adolescent cop/sci-fi fantasy.

Déjà Vu opens out in the Gulf of Mexico, a few hundred yards off the Louisiana shore, where a New Orleans ferry explodes into a scorching ball of fire, killing 543 people. It’s a classic Bruckheimer/Tony Scott explosion — close-ups of dolls, smiling old folks, and yawning children seconds before their fiery demise — and, fortunately, only one of a few such moments in the film.

Enter ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Washington), one of those “CSI” master-of-the-obvious crime-scene investigators, the kind of guy who can astutely deduce that the only place to find explosive residue on a rainy day out in the ocean would be a nearby covered bridge. While investigating the crime scene, he gets a phone call from the coroner’s office and discovers another woman, Claire (Paula Patton), has burned to death and been found on a nearby shore; only her time of death is placed two hours before the ferry explosion. After the autopsy, Carlin decides that her death is linked to the bombing, and turns his attention to Claire’s murder to discover the terrorist behind both crimes.

He’s helped along by a newfangled, super-duper-secret government unit headed up by Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer), who really likes Carlin’s crime-scene skills. So, he’s brought into the unit, which uses a special program called Snow White, which has the ability to conduct continuous audio/video surveillance on any point, so long as that point is exactly four days and six hours ago. In other words, Carlin et al. conduct a stakeout on the past, focusing the bulk of their attention on Claire’s life. They manage this Emmett-Brownian feat through the fluke discovery of a break in the space-time continuum, which allows them to look back 102 hours. The geeky operative, Denny (Adam Goldberg, who has seemingly built a career on geeky operative roles) explains the “folding of time” involved, using some sort of Jessica Simpson understanding of physics, which was still a little over my head. I’m guessing, however, that it’s mostly bullshit.

Anyway, Carlin also discovers that he can manipulate the past, which he’s gangbusters about since he not only wants to stop the re-imminent destruction of the ferry, but he’s also developed quite the hard-on for Claire. Thus, the Quantum Leaping, the fate/destiny arguments, and the absurd car chases ensue, which inevitably leads them to the crazy, right-wing nut-job, Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caveziel — and seriously, Caveziel, I question your decision to follow up your portrayal of Jesus with a Timothy McVeigh wacko; the message you’re sending is kinda creepy). It’s pretty much at that point that things turn from the ridiculous to the outright preposterous — the already flimsy logic crumbles, the plot holes widen, and the whole production turns into a blow-‘em-up version of Sandra Bullock’s Lake House.

But that, folks, is why Denzel Washington is paid the scads and scads of dollars — to make you forget about the fact that you’re watching cinematic lunacy. And hell if the man can’t pull off even this Bruckheimerian feat. He’s like the “thinking man’s” action hero, though even that might be a misnomer, since even his action pics don’t require much thought. But with Washington along, at least you feel like you’re thinking, while you’re half-comatose and drooling into your popcorn tub. Seriously, Déjà vu never would’ve worked without him. I suspect it had the potential to be just another Paul Walker/Vin Diesel film, in which case the same narrative, the same supporting cast, and the same director would’ve fallen on flat on their asses.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed — not in the film, which still only manages to rise to the level of a mindless but infinitely watchable action flick (and only that if you allow yourself to get sucked into its illogicality), but in Washington. Looking over the past several years of his work, he’s basically the acting equivalent of Kobe Bryant Steve Nash being asked to deliver the same wide-open six-foot jumper over and over again. Sure, he’s going to hit it every goddamn time, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the man dunk it every once in a while, or at least shoot a three from half-court. I’m just saying: I’d like it if Washington took on material that lived up to his talent, something — I’d argue — he’s only done four times in his lengthy career: Glory, Philadelphia, Malcolm X, and The Hurricane.The way it’s going lately, however, it’s Washington’s acting career that’s in a constant state of déjà vu. (Jesus — I feel like I just stole that last line from Joel Seigel; quick, someone shoot me in the head before I give rise to an entire zombie community.)

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He is currently halfway through a three-year ‘sentence’ in upstate, NY, where he lives with his wife. You may email him, or leave a comment below.



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