DEJA VU - Blu-ray review

Washington earns all that money he's paid. He's so into his role that he almost has us believing. Almost.

James Plath's picture

The tagline on this police thriller from explosionmeister Jerry Bruckheimer asks, "What if you could change the past?" Ummm, I don't know. Let's ask Marty McFly, who faced a similar challenge in "Back to the Future," or Professor Pearce from the remake of H.G. Wells "The Time Machine," who went back in time to try to save his fiancée from disaster. Or let's ask those two dudes from television who entered "The Time Tunnel" before the machine was perfected and wished they could change the course of history.

The point is, as the title invites, we have seen this sort of movie before. What we haven't seen is the application of the familiar sci-fi fantasy trope to an essentially serious-minded contemporary drama. And that's the reason, really, why "Déjà vu" doesn't work as well as its time-travel predecessors. Placed in a wholly realistic context, it's simply too far-fetched. Denzel Washington is so likable and such a convincing actor that he almost single-handedly has you buying into this hokum penned by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, but a few of the twists that come out of the wormhole in time are just a bit too much to take.

It would be easy to be hard on this film, but the fact is that it's no more difficult to swallow than your average action film. You know going into such films that logic will be the first casualty in a series of explosions, gunfire exchanges, and martial arts battles. Here, you hold out some hope for logic. You want to understand how this Big Brother technology of the future works, and so it's not until midway into the film when you finally have to simply watch it as you would an action flick: Don't question anything and don't expect anything to make sense. Treat it like an improv session. If someone hands you a grapefruit and says it's a baby, then play along. Tickle it under the chin and say "Gitchy koo!"

But there's one other thing you have to get past before you can just sit back and enjoy the movie. You've got to fight the feeling of resentment that the filmmakers are exploiting two things, big-time: the outburst of emotion for Katrina victims, and the patriotic fervor and terrorism paranoia that's become a part of our post-9//11 world. That's because the basic premise has a terrorist blowing up a Mardi Gras ferry that's filled with sailors on leave and school children on a field trip (what, no puppies?). And there are no survivors.

I will say this, though. As easy as it is to joke about Bruckheimer's penchant for big bangs, the opening scene is awfully dramatic and real-looking because it was a real stunt, we find out in some of the bonus features. And it's a spectacular scene. Absolutely spectacular.

After the explosion, local police and disaster teams are doing their thing when ATF agent Doug Carlin (Washington) enters the picture and is already so far along in his investigation that you can see the locals' heads spinning as he tries to bring them up to speed. He's already made a trip to the morgue where, in a gruesome scene, he licks the fingers of a dead woman named Claire (Paula Patton) and touches her other places in order to deduce things that even the coroner isn't catching. In other words, he's got skills that place him right up there with the kind of Western hero that rides into town just in time to save everyone. And the uber-agents who recruit him to help them utilize a new secret technology know he's just the kind of hot-shot they need. It turns out that there's this satellite program dubbed "Snow White" that captures images using advanced technology that can penetrate walls and zoom in anywhere in a particular section of New Orleans. Why they were testing it on New Orleans isn't exactly clear, nor do we understand precisely why the videotape of the footage they're watching is always four days and six hours ago. That's the time-frame they're working with, as they zoom in to get not a virtual tour, but an actual one. These guys can even get into Claire's apartment and watch her in the shower.

Surrounded by capable actors like Val Kilmer, James Caviezel, and Adam Goldberg, and playing opposite Patton when he goes back in time, Washington is at the top of his game. He offers a solid performance that makes you think he's really believing all of this, and so, we're willing to overlook a few things--like how basic the plot really is. Can Doug and the other agents use the wormhole in time to change the course of history?

Ahh, there's nothing like a good explosion in Blu-ray, which is probably why so many of Jerry Bruckheimer's films are already available on the new medium. When you see cars flying off the ferry and plunging into the water along with bodies, all sharp and precise, it's helps to explain why people who should turn away from disasters are nonetheless drawn to them. There's something riveting about fireballs and metal-twisting bombs going off, especially in Hi-Def. Which is to say that the 1080p picture looks great, presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio that's wide enough to showcase the panoramic mayhem. Colors are also vivid and pleasingly saturated, and in those high-tech computer satellite shots of New Orleans the black levels are strong enough to hold the detail in murky light.

PCM has seemed the strongest soundtrack option thus far on Blu-ray, but I have to admit that the uncompressed English 5.1 delivered a surprisingly wide sound across the speakers, with good resonance and timbre. Additional options are the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish, with subtitle options in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The rear-speakers really get a workout during the explosion, but much of the rest of the film is dialogue, and so don't look to be equally entertained throughout.

As with the standard DVD release, included here is "Surveillance Window" which combines filmmaker's commentary with behind-the-scenes features on the ferry explosion, developing Washington's character, make-up and special effects, the surveillance window, camera-work, the split-time car chase, filming in New Orleans, the actors, and the stunts. It's all pretty entertaining, though there's nothing said that makes you go "Ohhh, I get it." Rounding out the extras are five very short deleted scenes and three extended scenes, playable with or without commentary. Of these, you learn more from the extended scenes, which include Claire being held captive, a close scene with Doug and Claire, and further shots of the ferry aftermath.

Bottom Line:
At a time when it's almost become a cliché to have the good guys turn out to be the bad guys, it was refreshing that the writers and director Tony Scott ("Man on Fire," "Enemy of the State") avoided that pitfall. And that grand explosion certainly makes "Déjà vu" memorable. The intrigue and high-tech concept gets a little far-fetched, but that's exactly when Washington earns all that money he's paid. He's so into his role that he almost has us believing. Almost.


Film Value