Denzel Washington as Doug Carlin
Val Kilmer as Agent Pryzwarra
Paula Patton as Claire Kuchever
James Caviezel as Carroll Oerstadt
Adam Goldberg as Denny
Elden Henson as Gunnars
Erika Alexander as Shanti
Bruce Greenwood as Jack McCready
ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) has been called in for one of the biggest cases of his career, the bombing of a ferry in New Orleans. It quickly becomes one of the strangest as strange things begin happening shortly thereafter; a bomb victim, who had called Carlin the day before, is found on the shore an hour before the bomb went off. When an FBI agent (Val Kilmer) comes to him to help in a special squad investigating the bombing, Carlin finds himself with more questions than ever before, foremost among them, can a man change the past?
“Déjà Vu” is a gimmick picture, pure and simple. It tries hard to graft an emotional story of lost chances onto the gimmick, but ultimately the gimmick wins out. It doesn’t help that the two people most involved in the emotional side of the story don’t share any screen time until the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Director Tony Scott dances just as fast as he can to get past that hurdle and build tension in scenes that are – if you really think about them – essentially tensionless, but the structure of his narrative is working against him. He’s dropped a lot of the stylistic experiments that cluttered “Man on Fire” and “Domino” but replaced them with some of the more standard MTV riffs that show up in so many Bruckheimer films. I’m not sure how good of a trade off that was.
Washington is far too good an actor to turn in a bad performance in even a mediocre movie, but no matter how good he is, “Déjà Vu” doesn’t ever really take full advantage of it, but at least it tries. Kilmer and Caviezel are both completely wasted.
The biggest problem isn’t so much the preposterousness of the basic gimmick itself (and it is preposterous; it takes a great deal of good will to suspend disbelief once they explain how they’re doing what they’re doing, they’d have been better off not explaining at all), it’s that the film’s internal logic doesn’t really match up. It spends a lot of time being clever and laying out plot points, without ever really noticing that it was contradicting itself at the same time. It probably wouldn’t be such a flaw if the gimmick itself didn’t seem to be what the movie was about. Like his last couple of films, Scott can’t seem to really decide what this film is about and in the end, it’s not really about anything.