Catastrophes of the past come back to haunt film with a bad case of Déjà Vu

By James Conway

What if you could go back in time and prevent a terrible catastrophe before it started? This age-old question is tackled in a very unchallenging and conventional movie by the Jerry Bruckheimer team that brought audiences other reality-bending existentialist fare including Pearl Harbor and The Rock. Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott tackle a question that baffles theoretical physicists with a Denzel Washington action flick appropriately titled Déjà Vu.

The film opens with generic long shots of soldiers returning home on a ferry to New Orleans, reuniting with their families, and elderly grandmothers clutching their grandchildren, when suddenly a little girl drops her doll, prompting the inevitable explosions. As if New Orleans didn’t experience enough tragedy this past year, it’s now suddenly thrust into the heart of a federal investigation of a domestic terrorist attack. Cue Denzel Washington as an ATF officer rummaging through the crime scene and picking up conveniently obvious clues, including chemical residue and explosive caps that miraculously survived the blast.

Val Kilmer appears in a muted supporting role that utilizes neither his acting talents nor even 15 minutes of his time as the FBI officer who sees something in the way Denzel puts together seemingly random unconnected clues, including a dead woman who turns up along the way, and connects the dots to piece together the events of that day. It turns out that Kilmer’s agent leads an elite team of physics dorks who accidentally discovered a wormhole through time, which when painstakingly explained will make any U of C science major cringe in horror. This elite team is lead by an eccentric played by Adam Goldberg who provides the film with its best line: “Remember that blackout that knocked out the Eastern seaboard? That was us.”

As the plot twists and turns, Denzel gets more involved with the life of the woman fated to die, watching her live a content and ordinary life completely unaware of the fate that awaits her. The team’s task is to observe the past and find the man responsible, but Denzel wants to do more; he is convinced he can save her, and sure enough, he tries to break the team’s rules and prevent the murder and terrorist attack.

As the title implies, this is indeed a case of déjà vu: I’ve seen this plot before, I’ve seen Denzel Washington play this character before, and I’ve even seen Adam Goldberg lead a team of eccentric dorks working for The Man before. This was déjà vu in every sense of the word, since I’ve seen this movie before. The Bruckheimer formula of interesting conspiracy theories, shameless explosions, and dorky characters getting the job done has begun to run its course. But the film is salvaged from total mediocrity by the outstanding performances of Washington and the female lead, Paula Patton, who provide the film with depth and create characters you legitimately hope can work it out before time runs out.

Other than that, this conventional thriller with a slightly unconventional premise meanders its way through a linear plot line from point A to point B without pulling too many punches. Even as popcorn fare, the film is inferior to better flicks like The Rock or Tony Scott’s last film, Man on Fire, which also includes a much better performance by Denzel Washington. That said, while considering both its unoriginal plot and its mediocre execution, I still reluctantly recommend it. If you want to see a movie that isn’t about saving Christmas or Her Majesty’s Secret Service, then I do recommend Déjà Vu for one viewing, but I certainly don’t recommend it for a repeat viewing.