Deja Vu

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I'm a sucker for time travel stories. I think I'm attracted to the attention to detail such stories require, especially when traveling into the past and back. The beauty of it is that as a viewer, I'm willing to let the screenwriter define whatever rules he wants to, and I'll believe the universe works that way. In Deja Vu the writers couldn't decide how their universe worked, and so they let it work in whatever way the plot required. Sloppy.

A terrorist blows up a New Orleans ferry, and a woman's scorched body is found downriver but with a time of death predating the explosion. This sets off a chain of events which sees ATF agent Denzel Washington recruited into a top-secret FBI project that surveils through time. With a lot of expository hand-waving to basically say, "Look, we know it's ridiculous to believe that any number of satellites would provide enough data to not only watch a good chunk of New Orleans at any resolution and from any angle, but also to see through walls-- but we need to assume that it's possible for the sake of our story, so just go along with us, OK?" Washington learns that an accidental wormhole lets the FBI peer backward in time by four days. They can be anywhere in their covered area in that time, but they can't fast-forward or rewind-- they get only one shot. They need Washington to tell them where to look so they can find the guy responsible before he gets away.

But of course we in the audience know there's more to the story than that. It's Denzel Washington, people-- do you really think he's going to let the ferry blow up or the girl get killed? So it's no real surprise to discover that the wormhole isn't just a viewer, but a true portal. The way Denzel discovers this is the first time the writers break their own rules, confusing a monitor displaying the data from the wormhole with the wormhole itself, but it's not the last. They couldn't seem to decide if time was mutable or immutable. Washington participates in an autopsy of the charred woman's body, but later prevents her from being charred in the first place. Mutable. Meanwhile, the first time he visits her apartment after the autopsy, refrigerator magnets (among other things) indicate that he's already been there. Immutable. Which timeline is he in-- the one where the woman dies, or the one where he saves her? The writers don't seem to know, and so he's in both at once. The timelines of the movie just don't make sense.

Still, the film does give leverage its premise to give us a wonderful (if absurd) action sequence in which Washington chases the bad guy through time, tailing him from a distance of four days and just a few yards. It wouldn't surprise me if the entire movie were created to support this one gripping and inventive sequence. Washington, as always, is terrific, and there's some nice supporting work from Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg. And if you can suspend disbelief long enough to accept the technology as given, Deja Vu serves up a solid action brownie. Just eat from the middle, and avoid all the imperfections at the edges.

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First graf: I lol'd.

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