Some people eat popcorn when they watch movies. Others eat candy.
Me? Pork, baby.
Pork doesn’t make Deja Vu much better though.
If anyone else thought of The Matrix or Enemy of the State upon seeing Deja Vu’s trailer last year, then you weren’t far off the mark. Throw in some Back to the Future, and bam, Deja Vu, a reality-bending ethic-smashing surveillance time travel sci-fi cop procedural mash-up. If the trailer also ticked you off with its annoying voice over and general outlandish premise, you’re right about that too.
This movie is ridiculous, but somehow it doesn’t suffer because of that. I bought the reality it presented, hokey and gimmicky as it is. What harms it is how mundane it is, how familiar it feels. Replace the Minority Report cops with the Time Travel Feds, or whatever they call themselves in this, and it’s basically the same thing. The same fetishistic voyuerism, technicians at computers whirring levers and acting like, well, miniature Tony Scotts, zooming, panning and cutting to impossible angles to get better invasive vantage points. It’s morally and ethically questionable, not that anyone makes those questions, but it’s all in the name of justice, or at least catching Jim Caveizel before he blows up a boat full of sailors for some reason. Nah, it’s really so Denzel can save a cute honey from dying.
Because Denzel is fiery, passionate and hungry for scenery. He glides along with his patronizing laugh and big, burly presence talking down to teammates, stroking his ego. That the babe loves him unconditionally at the end and other spoilery life threatening stuff happens makes him come off as a big Mary Sue. Everyone talks how good a cop he is. He never misses details, which is why he’s recruited into the Time Cops by Jim Morrison.
Being a Time Cop simply involves watching into four days of the past, gathering evidence from phone conversations, the environment and other stuff. So, basically, Deja Vu is a movie about people watching and editing and directing a movie, and they use the movie to save lives. One techie asks “Who’s watchin’ it?” Denzel cooly responds: “We are.” Self-reflexive genius or humdrum hullabaloo?
Added reflexivity: terrorist villain Jim Caveziel, who played Jesus in Passion of the Christ, spouts religious crap AND quotes Ed Harris from The Rock, another dumb-though-decent action flick Jerry Bruckheimer produced. Tony Scott directed Enemy of the State, another conspiratorial surveillance action flick. Harry Gregson-Williams did the music for that too. Denzel tells a co-worker at a VCR to “Hit rewind for me.” Get it?! Deja Vu? HIT REWIND?! The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry, Baby” is a prominent song, and Macy Gray’s cloying “Coming Back to You” plays over the end credits.
It’s all very clever and very self-aware. Even the technobabble and science buzzwords, provided by a bearded and nerdly Adam Goldberg, sound convincing. Einstein-Rosen bridges and space and time folding in on itself? Okay! If only the Deja Vu machine had less aggrivating sound effects. Is it really necessary to have so many “SHWOOOOPS!”, “ZZZZZZZZTS!” and “SNEWWRRRRGGGGZZ!!” to accompany each and every zoom and pan? Cripes.
Tony Scott’s camera rarely settles. When it does it just sits there, admiring Denzel or slowing down and admiring Denzel as he dramatically takes off a pair of sunglasses to look at something dramatic. Silly. Scott clearly knows his way around technically, and the movie shines with all the wizardry and spit shine of a modern motion picture. It all feels a bit too clean, even in the obligatory autopsy scene. Blame it on the PG-13 rating.
The carnage is awfully sanitary, which we get in one of the nuttiest car chase scenes in cinema history in that it’s not really a car chase at all. To explain it would reveal how little of the “past goggle” technology behind it I actually understood – something about Denzel chasing a car four days in the past. Yeah, you got me. It’s by far the dumbest, craziest, most lamebrain part of the movie. Denzel crashes into oncoming traffic, flips cars over, yet no one’s hurt and there’s no repercussions for his manic murder spree.
As is often the case with high concept sci-fi flicks the ideas are much more interesting than the final product, which just becomes Denzel going back in time to do action hero stuff, slowly. At least this is a better time bending movie than Primer.
The flick’s at its best when it’s talking about fate, the complications of space and time, the possibilities of splitting dimensions, and what life and death means with such technology available. During this unexpected philosophical exchange I was reminded of the Square RPG Chrono Cross, which features the exact same topics, and being reminded of that game can’t be a bad thing.
The music by Harry Gregson-Williams also reminds me heavily of his Metal Gear Solid 2 score. So when I’m reminded of video games that makes me like movies a little more! Hurray!