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Déjà vu

(2006) ** 1/2 Pg-13
128 min. Touchstone Pictures. Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Adam Goldberg.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott may not know art, but they know what they like. They also know what studios like and what audiences like, so they will be in business until they die. They say you'll never go poor underestimating the American public, but there's no crime in just plain entertaining the pants off of people. The Bruckheimer-Scott team does just that with Déjà Vu, a science-fiction thriller that, despite a preposterous premise, works surprisingly well.

The first two elements to notice about any Bruckheimer-Scott picture are its style and its star(s). Bruckheimer loves swift editing and burnished, unnatural color; Scott is a man who never met a set of venetian blinds he didn't like, and boy, does he know how to make a can of Diet Pepsi glow. Since Déjà Vu takes the team beyond outlandish all the way into science-fiction, the style demonstrates relative restraint: the film is very nicely shot, Hollywood-style, with a technically impressive set piece to open the picture.

That scene depicts a devastating act of domestic terrorism, accompanied ironically by a car radio's transmission of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." The scene's careful specificity isn't merely for its own sake: this elaborate, tricked-out thriller by Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio will return to the scene of the crime, figuratively and literally, over the next two hours. The crime also serves as occasion to bring on the star: Denzel Washington as New Orleans-based ATF agent Doug Carlin. Given the strained premise to follow, Washington's grounded presence is not only welcome but invaluable (I wouldn't advise risking this high-degree-of-difficulty stunt with a star like Will Smith or Josh Lucas).

Carlin finds himself recruited by a secretive taskforce—run by Val Kilmer—that turns out to have access to a Time Window (Scott does love his spy tech, this time lovingly ripped off from Minority Report). This revelation sends the moody thriller spinning and allows for all manner of screenwriting shenanigans, including at least one truly unique car chase involving two simultaneous timelines.

Carlin's investigative romance with a dead girl (Paula Patton)—voyeurism!—and conflict with Jim Caviezel's mad bomber—shades of Oklahoma City!—are nonsense, and some will find offensive the film's co-opting of national tragedies for entertainment (that's Hollywood!). Still, if you can surrender to the film's crazy convictions, it's a popcorn-munching wild ride worth taking.

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