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Déjà Vu (12/06/2006)
By David Robinson

Déjà Vu stars Denzel Washington as an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent with a past. We never quite get the details on it, but agent Doug Karlin has evidently had experience investigating the Oklahoma City bombing. He has also, from what he hints, lost everything or, at least, is aware of how quickly one can. So when he is assigned to investigate the blowing up of a New Orleans ferry boat, resulting in the death of 435 people, he is stoic about it.

But when one body washes up on shore, his examination of the dead young woman indicates that she was killed before the blast, then dumped in the water so that she would appear to be one of the bomb victims. Matters turn stranger still when an FBI agent (Val Kilmer) tells Karlin he has been picked for a special task force to look into the explosion. Inside a heavily-guarded trailer packed with electronic equipment, he learns that the Bureau has, in the wake of 9/11, stumbled a way to actually peer back into the past"but only one slice at a time.

All this has to do with "wormholes" in time which are quickly explained in best hastily-contrived movie fashion. But, hey, it's fantasy time, so let's not hear any kvetching about physics and logic, OK? Doing so will also spoil the ending for you, which addresses the usual problem of "time-travel" flicks"i.e., if you change the past, don't you change all the present, too?"by ignoring some crucial features of the question.

Anyway, peering into one such hole, he sees the young woman whose mutilated corpse he had puzzled over, one Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton). Karlin makes a bet that focusing on the last few days of her life"as opposed to the ferry boat"will ultimately solve both mysteries. He also, pretty clearly, falls in love with the dead woman.

Director Tony Scott and screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio are wise enough to keep the action moving smartly along so that we don't have a chance to think about all this very much. And at the level of action flick, Déjà Vu succeeds pretty well. One chase scene, where Karlin literally has one eye on the past and one in the present, works particularly well, silly though the basic concept may be. There's also a good deal of play with "the presence of the past," from golden oldies playing on the radio to the way that memory continues to affect our lives.

Washington is his usual solid self, Kilmer looks like he's been on a three-day binge, and Patton is convincing in a tricky role, as is Jim Caviezel in what amounts to an extended cameo as the heavy. I liked Harry Gregson-Williams' musical score, understated for this genre, and the cinematography of Paul Cameron, who keeps the past and present separate and parallel, as needed.

Déjà Vu has been tepidly reviewed, but I think because people have been asking it to be more than it is. After all, this is an action flick, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, slickly put together and featuring a veteran cast. It's appropriately rated "PG-13," mostly for violence, but the filmmakers have been somewhat restrained in that department, considering what might have been done. The film won't win any awards, but it's good escapist entertainment. 


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