Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2006

Wait, haven't we seen this before?

Maybe we haven't -- it's a toned-down Tony Scott in 'Deja Vu'

Deja Vu
Touchstone Pictures
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio
Starring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg, Val Kilmer and Jim Caviezel
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 8 minutes
Opened Nov. 22, 2006
(out of four)

Give Tony Scott credit for showing a little restraint.

Generally speaking, particularly with recent efforts like the miserable Man on Fire and the unwatchable Domino, Scott comes across like a hyperactive infant playing with his first camcorder, excitedly banging on random buttons for two hours. To say he over-directs all of his movies would be a massive understatement. His overblown, pointless editing techniques and rapid-fire pyrotechnic camerawork are annoying at best, seizure-inducing at worst. Basically, he feels the need to throw as many arbitrary tricks and gimmicks on the screen as possible, for the sole purpose of throwing as many arbitrary tricks and gimmicks on the screen as possible. He is his own films' worst enemy -- even the good ones.

But this time, with Deja Vu, he actually lets the story do some of the talking. During the film's opening credits -- which show us scintillating, tension-building moments such as people getting on and off a boat -- I felt like I was watching Man on Fire again (one of those deja vu moments, ho ho). It looked like he was right back to his old tricks -- shaky cameras for no reason, instantaneous zoom-ins and zoom-outs, enough choppiness to make you a little seasick. But then, lo and behold, he started to calm down, and before you knew it, the story was taking off, Scott the director was completely forgotten, Denzel had taken over and, Bob's your uncle, we had a halfway entertaining movie on our hands.

For most of Scott's career, he's dealt with simple (even idiotic), testosterone-sculpting stories featuring shallow characters and appealing to only the most ADD-riddled 14-year-old boys. Maybe he wasn't allowed to dumb it down too much this time because the story is actually interesting. Preposterous, maybe. But enough for an entertaining time.

Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is a New Orleans ATF agent investigating the explosion of a naval ship. To do this, he's brought in by government scientists who have discovered a pseudo-time travel device that allows them to see four days and six hours into the past in real time. The idea is that this will allow Doug to find clues and solve the crime.

It goes without saying that such a device thrown into an otherwise real-world situation is ridiculous, but that's beside the point. In fact, those who don't know much about the movie going in might experience such a development as a nice, jarring surprise. The project, which of course is kept top-secret by whatever branch of the government takes care of these types of things, is headed up by Denny (Adam Goldberg), a young genius scientist. Denny is the kind of flippant, dryly sarcastic egghead that Adam Goldberg has made a career of playing. Moving on 

There are certainly rules that govern the device itself -- and thus make the plot easier to tie down and follow. First, they are always looking at one moment, exactly 102 hours ago. If they miss something, they can't rewind. The device only works within a certain target area, but it can basically see anything and anyone, from any angle (the problems with this are explained with the typical scientific mumbo-jumbo). The way Denzel and Co. are able to look back in the past to search for clues is pretty interesting; the multiple visual interfaces they utilize were reminiscent of (though not as effectively utilized) the "crime scene" sequences from Minority Report.

Through a series of events that isn't worth re-hashing, Doug -- who doesn't seem at all surprised to discover this massive technological leap forward -- figures out that the demolition of the boat is somehow tied to the murder of a woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton). And, in another twist, he discovers that he may actually be able to affect the past, thus changing the future -- and perhaps preventing Claire's death and the boat explosion altogether.

Doug develops a certain affection for Claire -- separate from his belief in her importance to the case -- which allows the script to delve more into her character than as simply another chess piece. Patton, who was also in this year's Idlewild and, oh by the way, is absurdly gorgeous, does a nice job in a limited amount of time. But, as could be expected, this movie is carried by Denzel. As good an actor as he is, Washington does a lot of pretty mediocre (or just plain bad) Hollywood movies, but this role is right up his alley.

There's a lot of fun to be had with Deja Vu, as ridiculous as it may be. Scott even utilizes some effective visual touches -- look especially for the time-warped car-chase sequence -- and the script gets some mileage playing with the whole time/space continuum thing.

With all the obvious plot holes that Scott and Co. seem to ignore, Deja Vu couldn't possibly hold up to post-viewing scrutiny. Scott is only concerned with being entertaining and suspenseful, and in a lot of ways, he succeeds. He's not as worried about the nuts and bolts -- he just wants to get on with it. Indeed, if Scott were manually putting together an elaborate piece of furniture -- or even, for that matter, a simple bookshelf -- it would fall apart the first minute he sneezed.

But when we're in the moment in Deja Vu, that doesn't really matter. Its very absurdity is what makes it work -- but that only gets you so far. At a certain point, the proceedings start to feel more than a little frivolous and tiring. There's plenty of base entertainment value here, but it's ultimately unfulfilling. I will say this: It's a huge step up for Tony Scott. Maybe he took his Ritalin this time. I didn't walk out with a headache. I even had a little fun. Now if there were only a little more meat and depth at the center of the script, he might have really had something.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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