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You can waste brain cells analyzing Déjà Vu or you can just accept the film for what it ultimately is: an intense, engaging action movie involving a terrorist plot to blow something up, with a sci-fi edge thrown in as a twist. Déjà Vu is the perfect example of a summer popcorn action movie, despite the fact it’s being released in November in the midst of all the award show fodder.

The Story

Director Tony Scott and Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington unite for the third time with Déjà Vu, a film which may appeal to a wider audience than their past two collaborations (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire). Washington stars as ATF Agent Doug Carlin, a man capable of ferreting out the most minute clues from crime scenes, clues that others might overlook.

Carlin’s brought in to investigate an explosion which destroyed a New Orleans ferry and took the lives of hundreds of military personnel and their families. Sifting among the clues, Carlin stumbles across a beautiful female victim whose death doesn’t follow the same pattern as the other fatalities from the bomb blast.

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Carlin’s still pondering that particular death when FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) offers him a chance to solve the bombing and catch the killer using a new, top secret surveillance technology. This new investigative weapon allows the FBI team – and now Carlin – to view a real time playback of specific locations within the city of New Orleans from four days in the past. As Carlin gets caught up in watching the events unfold, he becomes convinced there’s a way to stop the devastating event from actually taking place.

The Acting

Washington’s always great at this sort of intelligent, diligent, hard-working crusader for good role, and once again he delivers an outstanding performance. Equally impressive is relative newcomer Paula Patton. Patton shines as the would-be victim of the bomber and the woman who catches Washington’s eye. Patton's take on the character is perfect, lending the role just the right mix of vulnerability and strength.

Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson, and Erika Alexander project authority as members of the FBI team connected to the breakthrough surveillance technology. As the film’s villain, Jim Caviezel steals moments away from Washington. There’s an icy, menacing tone to his performance that absolutely sells his religious/patriotic zealot character to audiences.

To Sum It Up

Déjà Vu makes good use of New Orleans, the city is a character unto itself. The devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in the Ninth Ward is heartbreaking to behold on screen, yet Scott has used the footage in a way that suits the film and not in an exploitative manner.

Scott’s trademark style of extreme close-ups and quick choppy edits is thankfully all but missing. And when the action heats up, Scott pulls out all the stops. When Washington hops in a car, dons a special helmet that allows him see into the past, and chases Caviezel through the busy streets, it’s one of the most amazing and unique car chase sequences in a film.

The only real downside to an otherwise entertaining thriller has to do with the sci-fi elements. They're glossed over too quickly considering how central they are to the plot. Perhaps it was felt digging too deep into how the technology supposedly worked would bore audiences. Or maybe screenwriters Terry Rossio and Bill Marsilii and director Scott felt it wasn’t necessary to delve into the how and why of it all, fearing that would take away from the character development or human element of the movie. Whatever the reason, questions are left unanswered that might have offered a better understanding of the film's ending.

The sci-fi angle is what moves the entire film forward, but it’s not what Scott chose to focus time on. Audiences have the choice of either going with the flow and accepting the premise on face value or missing out on the fun of a good action film by getting stuck on how it all actually works. My suggestion: don’t sweat the small stuff (in other words, forget the mechanics of time travel) and follow the big picture.

GRADE: B

Deja Vu was directed by Tony Scott and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality.

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