Monday, January 14, 2008

Deja Vu

Once More into the Time-Breach, Dear Friends, or:
Stop me if you've heard this one...

I took an "Introduction to Film" course in college (it's why I'm so danged qualified to write these things!). When we got to the study of Russian Cinema, the instructor discussed the differences between their film-making and Hollywood film-making. Russian films were big on "montage." They'd give you pieces of a puzzle and you'd add them up to form the story, and sometimes the juxtaposition of images would react against each other. A shot of a hillside under a sunny sky. A shot of wheat. Another shot of wheat. Another shot of LOTS of wheat. Black smoke appearing over the hillside. A large tire crunches the dirt. The grill of a tractor (for it is a tractor, comrade). People marching (with flags, yet!) beside the tractor in solidarity to the...well, you get the idea. There's a lot of coverage for a simple event.

By CONTRAST, the Hollywood film works like this: a shot of a hillside under a sunny sky; a plane enters the frame.

It blows up.

Déjà Vu" is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and with him, you get the best of both film-making worlds--the long drawn out set-up AND something blowing up!! That's art you can take to the BANK, baby! And Bruckheimer does. You can pooh-pooh a lot of his films like "Days of Thunder," "Bad Boys," "Armageddon" and "Con-Air" (and his morgue-TV franchise "CSI: Anywhere," which this film resembles at times) but they draw in the crowds in amazing numbers, especially when Tony Scott (Ridley's brother) is directing ("Top Gun," "Crimson Tide,"), and this is the latest collaboration between Denzel Washington, Scott and Bruckheimer.

This film begins with the kind of "America in slo-mo" shots they usually reserve for commercials for something unpleasant like life insurance, or Dupont chemicals. The rule is if you've got kids leaping on the grass at half-speed no one will think anything but happy thoughts when you mention chemical fertilizer. Well, we get a lot of that as sailors and their families happily (and sloooowly) board a ferry boat. Then BOOM! It blows up in different speeds at different angles. Lots of coverage of the orange fireball. We've seen this sort of thing from Bruckheimer before. Prolonged normalcy, then instant carnage (is gonna get you). But it's just the beginning of the pattern of referrals, call-backs and out-right "steals" in this moebius strip of a movie.

Enter Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington). He's a crime scene investigator, but instead of being CSI, he's ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). He's misplaced his partner someplace (yes, it's significant) so he's handling the investigation solo. But that's okay, because like CSI's Gil Grissom, he can spot molecules out of place on a beach filled with debris. In no time at all, he's scored a major lead in the case, while the cops take longer trying to explain where the coffee urn is--no, I'm not making that up. Washington is so ingratiating in the role (doing a grinning spin on his "
Inside Man" investigator) that you're just happy he's on the case.*

Now Gil Grissom actually does show up, but if you blink once or twice you'll realize that it's merely
Val Kilmer doing a Bill Petersen imitation. Kilmer's a gifted performer (The Doors, Tombstone, KissKissBangBang), but here he's a little bloated looking, like the love-child of John Travolta and Kurt Russell.

Carlin's ability to see grains of sand out of place attracts his attention--and they make their way to
the Guardian of Forever...or Project Tic-Toc...actually, it's a big terra-computer that can see back in time precisely four days and six hours and with it, the investigators hope to be able to track down the terrorists before they can launch the attack, but they don't know where to pick up the thread. That's Carlin's job and he naturally says, "Watch the girl." And before you can sing one verse of "Laura is the face in the misty light" the group is following her every move even into the shower. High Tech Stalking, but, hey, it's all in the past, after all, and it's (harrumph) "National Security." Now, most investigators fall in love with the object of the investigation (the "Laura" trope) when they see them across a room. This guy sees her across a coroner's slab. So to the creepy "stalking" aspect, perhaps we should add necromancy. Or "nec-romance."

I would say that to reveal more of the plot would spoil the movie, but, really, you've there's nothing new that hasn't been done in better and worse films and TV series. And you just know that once the subject of seeing into the past comes up, someone is actually going to try to...(you're probably way ahead of me AND the movie, which is a sort of reverse time-travel--which should upset
the time-space continuum...or at least cause the lights to go dim in Robert McKee's screenwriting seminar!). Luckily for the folks involved, though in most movies of this sort, messing with the past can cause some unseen complications, in this movie there are no loose ends**--everything turns out just as it was before, but better. Well, except for the movie, of course. It's not that "Déjà Vu" is bad. It's just that it's cobbled together from bits of other movies, so, like the phenomenon for which it's named, you get the nagging feeling you've seen it all before.

And you have.


Déjà Vu is very much a cable movie--endlessly repeating, ad infinitum.

*With that lead comes a red herring--a woman has washed up on the beach--she's burned, but still beautiful--and she got there before the explosion and against the tide. And before you can say "we'll cross that Einstein-Rosen bridge
when we come to it," Washington's Carlin inexplicably makes her the locus/focus of the case..and of course, he's right.

** No, I'm wrong. There is a loose end..with this review. Where's the cat-joke? At one point, going through the "girl's" apartment, Carlin feeds her by-now starving cat...which provoked FarmerScott's retort after the movie, "That's
'Schrödinger's cat!'" And, of course, it is. It's also one of the best inside jokes that even Dennis Miller wouldn't have had the stones to use.

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