DEJA VU - DVD review

...we've seen it all before.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Tony Scott is a director known mainly for his high-class action thrillers, things like "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder," "Crimson Tide," "Enemy of the State," and "Man on Fire." His favorite star lately is Denzel Washington, so the pairing seemed a cinch for their 2006 collaboration, "Deja Vu." But things are not always so simple. It turns out that "Deja Vu" involves such a preposterous premise that it's hard to take the movie seriously. It's only Washington's intense yet good-natured performance that keeps it together for as long as it does. Which isn't quite long enough.

Things start out with a bang, literally, as a ferryboat filled with people explodes from a terrorist's bomb. I should tell you up front that this is not only a Tony Scott action film but a producer Jerry Bruckheimer action film. That may explain a lot of what follows. The movie is very loud and runs high to car chases, gun battles, and high-tech paraphernalia. But saying that after telling you who made it is probably redundant.

Washington plays ATF agent Doug Carlin, who is investigating the explosion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Carlin is a smart fellow, and in Washington's characterization quite an easygoing one, too. This is important for the business to follow, because the film gets goofier as it goes along, and it is only Washington's affability that keeps it from descending entirely into mediocrity.

The setting is New Orleans, post Katrina. Scott said he moved the location there from Long Island, NY, because he wanted to involve the community in the filmmaking and thus help revive it. Surely, it couldn't have been for the publicity, but I wondered as I watched the movie if New Orleans hadn't already gone through enough trauma without enduring a movie about a ferryboat disaster, too. Oh, well....

Anyway, Carlin hasn't been on the job more than a few minutes before he practically solves the case, with only the actual identity of the terrorist missing. He so impresses FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra, played by Val Kilmer, that Pryzwarra invites him to be a member of the FBI's elite investigative team also looking into the explosion. Now, here's the thing: Pryzwarra leads Carlin into a new facility with technology he says can look back in time, retrieving and recompositing satellite pictures for any given place at any given moment in time. The photographic technology can even track through walls using thermal imaging and digital reconstruction. Uh-huh.

Carlin, brilliant as he is, tells them that the death of a young woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), whose body they discover at the scene of the explosion, is the key to the mystery. Find out who killed her, and you find out who the terrorist is who blew up the ferryboat. The logic here is rather convoluted, so don't ask. Consequently, Carlin and the FBI team use the new photographic technology to track Claire's past few days. But that's not all. I told you Carlin was a smart guy. He figures out in a minute that the FBI are giving him a line, that no such photographic technology is possible. No, what, in fact, the FBI team are really doing is going back in time. They've developed a method of warping the very fabric of space. They're not watching a picture of the past; they're watching the past itself, happening in real time.

OK, you can see where this is heading. If you can watch the past as it is actually happening, then why can't you go back into this past, this alternate time slice, and change it? Yeah, you can take the plot from there.

The first half of the picture is pretty involving. It's a straightforward mystery yarn, with Washington and Kilmer keeping us interested in their investigation. Then comes the sci-fi stuff, and the story takes a turn into Never Land. It's really weird because the further along the movie goes, the less sense it makes, as the action takes place in both the present and the past. I swear, too, that the climax had my mouth dropping open in disbelief. I mean, if any reader would like to write in with a spoiler warning and explain how the ending was supposed to have happened, I for one would like to hear it.

A couple of other quibbles: The movie largely wastes Val Kilmer as the FBI agent and especially James Caviezel as the terrorist suspect. Kilmer's character mainly gets to look impressed by Washington's character's brilliance and little else, while Caviezel's terrorist has only to walk around menacingly and say about two words. Even I could have played these roles, so why hire such prominent actors except for their name recognition? Ditto for New Orleans; the filmmakers hardly utilize any of its natural beauty, nor do they do anything with the Katrina angle.

According to my Random House Dictionary, the term "deja vu" has two meanings: "1. the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time. 2. disagreeable familiarity or sameness." The movie "Deja Vu" most nearly fits into the second category. Except for Washington's acting, which I always find a pleasure, the film offers little beyond the same, old, tired time-travel motif and the same, old, tired time-travel paradoxes. It's a one-gimmick movie, with little tension, suspense, or involvement beyond the nonstop action. In other words, we've seen it all before.

I'm sure the Touchstone/Buena Vista video engineers did about as much as they could in transferring the movie to disc. They used a reasonably high bit rate to produce an anamorphic ratio that closely matches its original 2.35:1 theatrical dimensions. Colors are bright and fairly natural, definition is better than average for a standard-definition DVD, and black levels are deep. However, there is a slight glassiness to the overall image and a small degree of murkiness in darker scenes. In compensation for these minor defects, there are no artifacts, moiré effects, or evidences of noise or grain to speak of.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio does everything we have come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer action-movie soundtrack. There is a deep, thumping bass; there are surround effects that envelop us with pinpoint accuracy, with noises coming from a full 360 degrees; there is a wide front-channel stereo spread; there is a fine depth of field in everything but dialogue, which the soundtrack firmly anchors out in the center speaker; and there is a strong, taut dynamic response. Should I also mention that it's loud. It is.

There are not too many extras on the disc, but what we get is pretty good. First, there is a nifty feature called "Surveillance Window" that allows you "to go back in time with the filmmakers for on-set, behind-the-scenes moments just before they happen in the film." It's partly a filmmaker commentary with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, and co-writer Bill Marsilii, and it's partly a series of featurettes on how they staged and filmed certain key scenes. The combination is kind of a standard-definition answer to HD-DVD's "In-Movie Experience" but without all the bells and whistles. After that are five deleted scenes, about eight minutes' worth, and three extended scenes, about five minutes' worth, in anamorphic widescreen, with optional director commentary.

Things wrap up with sixteen scene selections and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at "Kyle XY" and "The Queen"; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired; and an embossed, metal-foil cardboard slipcover.

Parting Shots:
Watching Denzel Washington in any movie is worth one's time, and Tony Scott knows how to keep the pace moving forward. Still, by its second half "Deja Vu" becomes so far-fetched, it's hard to concentrate even on Washington's fine acting. Fortunately, it appears that even Washington was aware of how silly the movie's main idea was getting and treated the whole affair in an appropriately light manner. I think if he had tried to make his character more serious, he probably would have ruined whatever good there is in the film. I applaud him for that.


Film Value