Deja Vu


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


Deja Vu is a crime-solving procedural with a time-travel overlay. If that sounds gimmicky to you, well that's because it is. If that sounds completely implausible, you win another cigar.

Now stop a second. Are all gimmicky movies automatically bad? No. Memento has a preposterous concept, but is a good movie because of what it does with the concept. Does implausibility conflict with merit? No. If we disallow nonsense, then we will have to throw out every single instance of time-travel which has ever been conceived, because none of them make sense. If someone going back in time can alter the present, then he could alter the circumstances that caused him to be sent back in the first place. But if he was never sent back, how could he alter those circumstances? Indeed, someone sent back into the past could alter the circumstances that allow mankind to discover the method of time travel in the first place, meaning that time travel would never be possible, even though he has already traveled to the past. See what I mean? There is no way to alter events which have already happened, so any story which begins with this premise will automatically be filled with all sorts of illogical and contradictory circumstances.

So, since movies about time travel are inherently implausible, should we ban them?

Of course not. Nor should we ban films about other concepts which are purely imaginary. Imagination is part of art, and it is part of entertainment. Some would say it is the most important part of both, because we get enough of reality within actual reality. Maybe too much.

Deja Vu begins with a very somewhat plausible premise - even without breaking the light barrier, we may someday be able to view the recent past in a stream of images (see the sidebar for some wilder speculation). The postulate is that we can get a vantage point in space that allows us to view the events of precisely 102 hours ago. While such a vantage point could not occur in low earth orbit, as pictured in the film, it theoretically could exist in space. There are an infinite number of places precisely 51 light-hours from earth. Images taken from that vantage would take another 51 light-hours to transmit back to us, thus allowing us a constant streaming view of what happened 102 hours earlier, just as pictured here. Of course, images of Earth produced from that distance would not have much value for crime scene investigation, but who knows what advances the future may bring? The technology to make these images useful does not now exist, but it is not theoretically impossible. Of course, simply viewing what happened four days ago is about as exciting as watching C-Span, so what starts as a fairly reasonable concept in the film eventually gets pimped out -  first, to include synchronized sound (I have no theory to explain how they could get sound and light to travel at the same speed); second, and even more improbably, to allow Denzel Washington to enter the past.

The film can be split into two main parts. In the first, Federal Agent Denzel uses his view of the past to solve a crime of domestic terrorism and then to apprehend the baddie (played by the guy who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ). A truly great movie would have stopped there and used what he had learned to establish some key truths about human nature. Deja Vu is not a great movie, but merely a very good one, so it continues past that point of no return into a second part, in which Denzel goes to the scientists and browbeats them into harnassing all the power in the known universe to test the outer envelope of their technology and send him back in time to prevent the tragedy from having happened in the first place.

And, more important, so he can get laid!

I found that annoying, because it just looked the time-travel paradox square in the face and spit at it. All of a sudden there were two Denzels in the past of four days ago and they were both after some poontang. Of course, only one of them was after a criminal, since the other existed entirely in an alternate time-stream in which the crime had been prevented in the first place. Since the time-traveling  Denzel died, it would be fun to see a sequel in which the surviving Denzel has to identify his own corpse and solve that mystery, particularly since he was driving the car with the explosives, which made him seem to be a possible suspect in the bombing!

The first half of this movie is absolutely terrific. The mystery is mysterious and intellectually engaging, and the screenplay is not weighted down by gunplay and explosions. There is one car chase scene, but that is certainly no cliché. In fact, it may be the most creative car chase ever conceived, in which one man is trying to follow another who is four days in the past! Unfortunately, the second part of the film indulges in all the shopworn devices which the first part scrupulously avoids. In addition to the inevitable time-travel problems, there's a predictable love story, a bunch of shoot-outs and, de rigueur since Jerry Bruckheimer produced, plenty of explosions.

Oh, well, let us not moan about what might have been. The last act of this film may be uncomfortable, and the ending is downright disappointing, but there's really no good way to end a time-travel adventure, is there? The fun of time travel is the journey, not the destination. Along the way, Deja Vu is an entertaining film, and a gripping one, and occasionally one with some strong emotional resonance. It manages to overcome the liabilities of its gimmicky premise by getting the human element right, by focusing on how people are affected by tragedy, and by some very savvy looks at how a smart detective might react and adapt when confronted with a new technology he had thought impossible. The director of this film did one other thing right. He hired Denzel Washington. Denzel must be just about the best in the world at two specific parts of the actor's craft: (1) No matter how ridiculous the premise, he is able to sell it as reality; (2) No matter how unnatural the dialogue, he can envision a way to deliver it which sounds completely unaffected and in character. Those talents made him the perfect actor for this film, which requires the audience to accept the preposterous as routine. The director identified the right guy and hired him. Given that the same director (Tony Scott) is a wizard at the technical side of film creation, that brilliant hiring decision was all he needed to make his film work.


* widescreen anamorphic, 2.35

* The Surveillance Window: Takes you back in time to experience behind-the-scenes moments with the filmmakers

* Deleted and extended scenes




3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
57 British Consensus  (of 100)
58 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
59 (of 100)


6.9 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It grossed $64 million in the USA and $115 million overseas. It opened in the #2 spot with more than $20 million.


Part of the time-warp theory in this film has not been theoretically ruled out. While things which have been done cannot be undone, it may well be possible someday to view things which happened before we were born, even if we cannot physically enter the past. The key is the speed of light. If the speed of light is an absolute barrier which cannot be broken, then it would probably not be possible to view the distant past, but if it is possible to travel faster than light, then ...

Here's how it would work. Imagine a place in the universe where the light from Earth takes ten years to reach. If you could get there in three years, then you would be living in 2010, peering through a powerful telescope at the year 2000, even though you would have left earth in 2007. Extend the concept still further. Imagine another place in the universe where the light from earth takes two thousand years. If you can get there in three years, again carrying your all-powerful telescope, you might actually be able to watch Caesar's assassination or Jesus' crucifixion in your own lifetime. Extend it further. Watch the dinosaurs.

Mind you, there are many problems with this concept. (1) Is such a powerful telescope possible? Maybe, but it can't be created with today's science. (2) Even if you could see such things, you might not be able to share what you have learned. Physicists are not sure whether your six-year round trip from Earth to there and back would land you in the earth of 2013, or at some point in the very distant future, perhaps even a point which contains a completely desolate Earth where there is nobody to care about your discovery. Some physicists think that such a time-warp would exist if you traveled NEAR the speed of light. Frankly, they have no idea what might happen if you could exceed it. (3) Finally, we simply do not know whether the speed of light is an immutable ceiling to the practical speed of objects. If it can be exceeded, we do not know what would happen to objects which exceed it. But, having added all those codicils, we can say that it is not entirely impossible to conceive that we could someday view our own distant past. Why not? Even now we ourselves are viewing the distant pasts of galaxies which may no longer even exist, just as somebody out there may be viewing the birthing of our sun.



  • Paula Patton shows her breasts and buns in a shower scene, but it is viewed on a monitor from a satellite image, so don't expect much. You will get a clear, but brief and dark, view of her breasts. Her lower body is basically indistinct.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


In this case the "minus" is highly meaningful. It was not a mega hit, but it was a hit (more than $60 million at the box office). It was not a critical darling, but it got solid reviews (58%). I really enjoyed it myself, except for the last two minutes, and my only real complaint is that it is a good movie which should have been a great one, and could have been with only a little tinkering.