Deja Vu (2006) — Scouring the past for clues to a present crime

“What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they’d never believe you?”

Sue’s rating: Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? Or not.

Sue’s review: Whilst meandering through my summer vacation, the spawn and I had the opportunity to stop at the abode of our illustrious Head Mutant and his charming missus. T’was not exactly an official summit in the usual summitty way, but let’s face it. You don’t go to Justin’s house and NOT watch a movie. The only question was, which one would we watch? After much debate between the spawn, the missus and the mutants, our choice was Deja Vu. Would you believe that I was the only one there who’d never seen it before? (In fact, many titles were bandied about that I’d never seen before. I started to wonder if I’d end up being fired.)

In any case, the beginning of Deja Vu is woven very much in the CSI cloth; happy-go-lucky people, a beautiful day in the neighborhood-in this case a ferry boat-and KA-BOOM! (Incidentally, The Kingdom is another flick that comes to mind with a similar gut-punch beginning.) Enter more law enforcement agencies than you can shake an affidavit at.

The rescue and recovery operations would appear to be quite efficient, but the investigative teams are floundering over a crime scene that is, for the most part, under water. Then our hero, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) moseys in and immediately does one thing that Grissom and company would have handled as a matter of course, and finds a teensy bit of crucial evidence that immediately gets him elevated to the varsity team.

Eventually it all starts getting a bit existential. See, there’s this time machine-kinda sorta-and while it’s touted to our hero as being something of a super complex surveillance system, good ol’ Doug comes to understand that there are ways to reach through it in various ways. (As long as you don’t mind blacking out the entire eastern seaboard and making your electric meter spin faster than… than a really fast spinning thing.) While it’s a handy dandy tool for identifying the mastermind behind the terrorist attack, it also raises certain moral questions in Doug’s mind, such as: Hey, what about that really hot chick with the nice eyes who happens to be dead now, but wasn’t dead then, and can I go out with her? Tough call, Doug.

In any case, Deja Vu is the sort of movie that entertains and has the potential to put your brain into second gear, but only if you really want it to. Otherwise, you can let the psychology and science wash over you like a nice warm bath and focus on the violence. Essentially you’ll get out of it whatever you care to invest in it, which is not a bad way to spend a Thursday evening with your friends.

Justin’s rating: “Whoa, Bill, this place is totally heinous!”

Justin’s review: Time travel! It’s cool, it’s spiffy, and all the smart kids are doing it these days! Too bad we’re far too “grown up” in the 21st century and rely more on advanced calculus to do our eon-sojourning than tricked-out cars or telephony devices. Time travel is a serious business, and you best buckle down and do your homework if you expect to dissect the enjoyment contained therein.

Ah, what am I saying? Even a smarty pants flick like Déjà Vu (French for “a glitch in the matrix”) has a lot of thrill to chuck your way, as long as you’re prepared to take it at its own pace.

The film opens with a harrowing terrorist explosion on a crowded ferry in New Orleans. Nine minutes of this goes by until we hear the first spoken line by Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), an ATF agent with an Encyclopedia Brown nose for clues. He also seems atypical of Washington’s style of acting, mostly with his sudden big dopey grins that are almost childlike. Carlin finds evidence that others miss (of course), makes a tenuous connection to another homicide in the area (naturally), and he is then roped in by GuvMen, including Val Kilmer and Val’s mole.

Egads, on a big screen that thing is like the Death Star.

Apparently, the government has been doing something fairly useful with our tax dollars: the GuvMen have developed a unique time device that can see precisely four days and six hours into the past – an ongoing window that they can browse through but never speed up or slow down. The catch is that if they’re not looking in the right place for the right clue, they’ll miss it forever. Still, it’s the best shot at solving this horrific case, and Carlin jumps on board.

By the way, I have this device too: It’s called TiVo.

Director Tony Scott took an unusual approach to how Déjà Vu is set up, and this will be the make or break point for many people. The first third of the film is more or less standard CSI police procedurals, which goes on long enough to make the audience antsy for the promised time travel. The middle segment is Carlin and the GuvMen pretty much just playing Peeping Toms into the past, watching a big screen and hunting for clues. It’s interesting, but still… no real time travel. It’s not until the bottom third that we finally get launched into the past, as the team tries to thwart the ferry bombing from ever happening in the first place.

So what I guess I’m trying to tell you is that you’ll need some patience here. It’s an engrossing film, to be sure – full of plenty of thrills, a chilling bad guy and clever twists – but it clearly wasn’t made to be the next Back to the Future in terms of mass audience appeal.

Unrelated Theater Viewing Experience Tale: So my wife and I went to see this (she gives it her thumbs up approval as well), and the theater was icebox cold. Despite her own sweatshirt, Caramel was shivering, so I offered to take off my sweatshirt so she could have another layer. As I pulled up my shirt in one swift motion, two things happened. One: my glasses got knocked off in the clothy interior. Two: static cling brought my t-shirt up with me. So I end up with a lump of clothes surrounding my head, and bare chested/bellied beneath, struggling to find my t-shirt to get it back on before too many people in the theater notice an Italian stripping for no good reason. My wife, sympathetic to my plight, started laughing like a hyena. Good times.

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