November 23, 2006

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Déjà Vu (PG-13)
Denzel Washington has fun with physics in the Jerry Bruckheimerrific action Déjà Vu, a movie that plays like a fantasy super-charged version of C.S.I.

Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is one of those law enforcement types who walks onto a crime scene and has motive, means and suspect nailed down in a matter of moments. Which is helpful when this ATF agent shows up at the site of an explosion that killed more than 500 people. A cruise boat filled with Navy personnel and their families is blown up in New Orleans and Carlin is almost immediately able to nail down that the explosion was intentionally set and probably by a domestic terrorist. He also finds an apparent victim of the blast who, on closer examination, appears to have been killed before the explosion in a manner that would make her look like she died in the explosion. Claire (Paula Patton) has a house full of strange clues — bloody bandages, an ad for the car she’s trying to sell, a gun — and Carlin gets to work tying them to the crime and sorta falling for the comely Claire.

His investigative prowess gains him the attention of Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer), head of a special unit of government crime investigators. They have a special monitoring device that lets them see events four days in the past. They tell Carlin that the device is a composite of all available surveillance videos plus satellite images but he quickly figures out that it’s actually a real-time glimpse into the past. In the video version, Claire isn’t dead yet. And such begins Carlin’s questioning into this method of investigation. Might they be able not just to see the past but communicate with it as well? Under the right circumstances, couldn’t they not only solve crimes but also prevent them?

Ah, who knows. The physics for the initial premise is shaky and it only gets shakier as the story progresses. But, as with any good Bruckheimer movie (he’s one of the film’s producers) even when most of what you’re seeing is complete bunk there are plenty of explosions preceded by clever one-liners to keep you watching. The movie in its basic structure and development is no different from your standard TV police procedural. Washington is about a million times more appealing than any of the characters on either the Law & Orders, the C.S.I.s or their down-market knock-offs. Even slumming it as he is here, Washington gives a solid performance and brings more depth to his role than his character was probably created as having.

Is it worth paying to see a criminal investigation mixed with a fuzzy understanding of science when you could get the same thing for free with a couple of episodes of Numbers? Maybe not, but if you need a movie for family members aged mid-teen through granny to sit through together, you could do worse. C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality (though the more racy stuff is only in your head). Directed by Tony Scott and written by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, Déjà Vu is about two hours long and will be distributed in wide release on Nov. 22 by Touchstone Pictures.

— Amy Diaz