"Yes, you have been there before, and it's been more fun."
Director Tony Scott’s (“Man on Fire”) new thriller “Déjà Vu” was almost cancelled because Hurricane Katrina devastated its New Orleans location. Fortunately, the city, despite its recent tragedies, has bounced back just enough to give the film a vibrant and photogenic setting. The script, however, is a little less rickety than a FEMA trailer.It’s almost as if credited screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio had written three or four potentially interesting scripts and then pasted them together as some sort of mad literary experiment.
The opening is intriguing. A ferry boat carrying a group of sailors eager for Mardi Gras, explodes and leaves hundreds dead. An ATF agent named Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) discovers that Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton ), whose dead body has washed up on the shore may have discovered who the bombers were. Shortly before she died, she called him for no clear reason.
Carlin and the FBI agent on the case (Val Kilmer) use some classified high tech tools to determine who Claire might have met before the terrorist attack. With their gizmos, they can recreate the sounds and images from Claire’s life in the hours that preceded the bombing.
As they start to piece together discover that they can not only view Claire’s past in minute detail (the guys on the crew eagerly watch her shower), they discover through trial and error that they can even interact with her in a limited way.
They try slipping notes to her and others in the hope of saving her life and possibly the lives of the people on the ferry. In most films, this sort of time travel results in some ethical dilemmas or at least some dramatic or comic tension.
In “Déjà Vu,” altering history results in explosions.
As the filmmakers wander farther into science fiction, the story becomes less engaging. Yes, “Back to the Future” had good special effects, but it also had compelling characters and a good storyline. The people Agent Carlin interacts with are barely one dimensional.
Despite assembling a solid cast, Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer only allow Washington and Jim Caviezel (who plays a creepy would-be revolutionary) to leave much of an impression. Why the filmmakers cast terrific Canadian thespian Bruce Greenwood (“Capote”) as an investigator who’s little more than window dressing is beyond me.
The time shifts themselves seem to be handled as an afterthought. As he did with Mexico City for “Man on Fire,” Scott capitalizes on New Orleans’ unique atmosphere. The city seems filled with ghosts and a sense of foreboding. When the science fiction clichés start overwhelming the setting, the movie becomes more convoluted than fun.There’s a nifty moment at the beginning of the movie when the Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Production logos are repeated. But for the most part, “Déjà Vu” offers nothing that you haven’t seen done before or better. Note: This review was originally published in County Cable (countycable.net).