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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Déjà Vu

My cousin Chandra Lynn Rose-Steinman of the Bayridge Rose-Steinmans is renowned throughout Brooklyn for her psychic abilities. She is known within the Jewish community there as the “Roast Whisperer” because of her incredible ability to accompany almost anyone with cab fare and a modest fee to their local butcher shop where she will commune with the chops and steaks on display until she finds just the right piece of meat that is both kosher and happy to offer itself up as a meal to the hungry patron on-site. “It’s a gift,” says modest Chandra, and I have to agree. She’s definitely found a niche market for a talent few possess, much like Bill Marsilii, an untested writer who, with the remarkable skills of screenwriter Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Shrek, amongst others), took his barely coherent story about a time traveling ATF agent, and managed to make it into a saleable product.

The end result, called Déjà Vu, opened this week at the
Essex Cinemas. It stars Denzel Washington (Inside Man) as an Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent on the hunt for a madman and James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) as the terrorist he is determined to stop from blowing up a ferry filled with hundreds of Naval families on their way to Mardi Gras regardless of the fact that the bomb has already gone off and killed 543 of them earlier this very same day. Make sense? Of course not, but then it doesn’t really have to. At least not yet.

Soon after the graphically-depicted explosion, Washington’s Doug Carlin
finds himself entrenched in a study of the evidence, which in turn involves him in an examination of a body recovered from the shore. Oddly enough, the beautiful young woman (isn’t it always the case?) was killed in such a way that indicates she was not a victim of the bombing, but was only dumped in the drink in order to mask the fact that she was killed elsewhere earlier in the day. Doug is bright enough to figure out in seconds the path the terrorist must have taken. He kidnapped the woman, stole her vehicle to use as the housing for the bomb, bumped her off and then blew up the boat with the vehicle on board. Now all he has to do was find a way to track down how the terrorist first connected with the victim and then he’ll work backwards from there. Simple enough, right? Shades of "CSI" (all three versions!), "Cold Case", "Without a Trace", and all of the other Jerry Bruckheimer-produced tv programs that feel eerily like this film. There are two things you can always count on in anything with Jerry’s name on it. There will be big explosions and there will be extraordinary crime-solving skills like nothing ever seen in real life. You see it in all of his movies and all of his television shows. It’s almost like… well, like Déjà Vu, the way it keeps happening over and over again.

Then again, real life has little to do with
Déjà Vu because before the first day of the investigation is over Doug Carlin has been introduced to an elite section of the FBI by their Agent Pryzwarra, played by a newly plumped up Val Kilmer (The Ten Commandments: The Musical), now looking ready to replace a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon if he could somehow get airborne. Pryzwarra reveals a top secret project to Carlin where it appears that scientists have developed a remarkable machine that allows surveillance of almost anything, supposedly through digital enhancement and recombination of any number of satellite images from around the world at a given time for as far back as four days and six hours. Doug is skeptical as to how satellites could capture such precise and clear audio and visual images from inside buildings and at different angles, particularly of private citizens who would have no reason to be under surveillance. As you might imagine, it takes him little time to expose the truth ~ this is not simply a data viewer of the recent past. It is a time portal that they have created which allows the agents to peer into the world of the past four days to see what has happened in the hope that they might be able to track down clues as to the killer’s identity. But what good will it do to know who he is unless the goal is to stop him before he can commit the heinous act itself, ponders Carlin.

Here is where
Déjà Vu began to lose my interest. Better to just expect me to suspend my disbelief as when Samantha wiggles her nose or Jeannie crosses her arms and blinks before the magic begins than to spend a good twenty minutes or so of a high-octane thriller slowing things down to a snail’s pace for a lengthy lecture and demonstration on the theory of how time travel works. Wormholes, shwormholes. The worst part is that the whole thing is being explained by Adam Goldberg, a wonderful young actor, but one I shall always associate with his memorable turn as Chandler Bing’s slightly psychotic roommate Eddie on “Friends” during a bleak period when Chandler and Joey weren’t sharing their apartment. Eddie (in my mind) will always be cherished for keeping a Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish Cracker strung on a thread in his aquarium as a replacement pet for the one he had but who inexplicably died after he put the creature in his jacket pocket one afternoon and took it out for a walk in Central Park with him so his little buddy could get “some fresh air.” I know I’m digressing, but I wonder if Chandra would consider branching out to include seafood among her clients. I suddenly feel I could go for a nice nibble of flounder, just for the halibut. Sorry.

About this time in the movie my sugar rush from an overdose of Skittles wore off and I’m not sure, but I believe I may have dozed off for a few moments during the physics lesson. It didn’t really matter because when I woke up I had that odd sense of
Déjà Vu myself as it seemed Adam was basically repeating the same concept over and over again as if by making it a mantra it would also make it more palatable to the audience. Whatever. It really was just slowing down the inevitable. We already knew that Doug had to go back to the previous weekend so he could rescue the beautiful maiden before she fell victim to the madman and then he had to find a way to stop the insurgent from doing the unthinkable. Hey, we saw the previews, and besides, it’s not like we haven’t already seen TimeCop (both of them) and Back to the Future (all three parts). We know how these things work.

From this point the film becomes a series of “do-overs” but with a decided twist. The lovely corpse is now quite animated and bewitching. As Claire Kuchever Paula Patton (Idlewild) makes an impressive co-star and partner for Washington. They practically burn up the screen with their heat and even though the relationship is never overtly sexual or even what one would call “personal” their chemistry is clearly pungent whenever they share the screen together. It is easy to see what drove Carlin to cross the time barrier to save this particular woman’s life. I’m certain she’d do the same for him any time.

As for Caviezel, his Carroll Oerstadt is not well-
defined and his motives for being as full of rage and sheer hatred for the US are not fully explained, but then again are the motives of real world fanatics like Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh ever really made that clear? Still, he exudes a frightening air of menace that would give Hannibal Lecter gooseflesh. There’s something especially creepy about seeing the visage that many associate as the face of Jesus now as the psycho slayer of babies and grandparents.

Despite the inherent flaws of logic in its basic premise about time travel, the film is fast-moving (save for the mid-point lecture) and a well-thought-out adventure. The playing of parallel time streams could have been wrought with frivolous mistakes or throwaway bits, but every bit of information revealed in the “original” timeline is there for a reason and shows up in the most surprising of ways in the “amended” version, leading both Carlin and the viewer to believe along the way that no matter how hard his character tries to alter the events of the now future catastrophe the less it seems possible no matter how he tries to circumvent these actions.

Déjà Vu is not at all about the real psychic phenomenon called déjà vu. I called Chandra to tell her that so she wouldn’t be disappointed when she went to see the movie in Flatbush and she told me she knew that because she had a dream that I had already called her and told her that. She also told me that No, she couldn’t communicate with fish the way she did with other meats. According to her, the lox are anti-Semitic and have turned the others against her just because she once mentioned the words ‘bagel’ and ‘schmear’ within earshot of a tray of the tasty pink foodstuffs while in her neighborhood deli. Apparently they may be dead, but it doesn’t stop the gilled gossipers from spreading their hate telepathically. It must be hell to live with the burden of such a gift as Chandra’s. Me? I think it’s hard enough to decide between the Milk Duds and the Dots when I visit the concession counter at the Essex Cinemas before every movie I see. I can’t imagine if I had to actually ask all of the boxes of candy if I could eat them, though I suppose I just might like the pills the psychiatrist would prescribe if I tried.

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