Whether or not you get that nagging sensation that you’ve seen “Deja Vu” before, your brain will seriously hurt trying to figure out whether its central gimmick works.
There are the obligatory explosions and car chases, even a little tease of nudity, everything you’d expect in a big, mindless action movie. This is, after all, From Producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Only “Deja Vu” has its mind on far more ambitious, complicated subjects: the possibility of going back in time and saving hundreds of people from dying in the bombing of a New Orleans ferry. (The film is the first to be shot in the city post-Katrina, and unflinchingly depicts the destruction that remains in several spots. Well-intentioned as it may be, however, that still doesn’t make it good.)
Denzel Washington endures all the physical demands of director Tony Scott’s film with his typical aplomb and even gets a few laughs as Doug Carlin, the no-nonsense Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent investigating the attack. Scott thankfully has toned down his aesthetic approach here compared to his last film, the overwrought biopic “Domino,” while retaining his trademark zippy style from earlier movies like “Man on Fire,” “Enemy of the State” and “Top Gun.”
Carlin just starts to dig into this mystery, picking up shards of blasting cap from the river banks, wiping residue from the bottom of the Crescent City Bridge and answering unusual phone calls. We’re with him, it’s sufficiently intriguing.
But then the movie completely jumps into the abyss and Washington is forced to go with it — literally — when he enters a high-tech realm where government techno geeks are watching what looks like satellite surveillance footage from exactly four days and six hours ago. It’s much more that that.
Terry Rossio (who co-wrote the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) and Bill Marsilii came up with the screenplay, giving Adam Goldberg a long-winded explanation about Einstein-Rosen bridges and other various wormholes that probably was meant to wow us with its complexity, not make us laugh at how absurd it all sounds. Then again this is the kind of movie that you’re either going to go with or you’re not; as one colleague recently put it, if you spend seven seconds thinking about whether it makes sense, you’re an idiot.
There is a clever car chase, though — if you’re willing to embrace the conceit — in which Carlin is driving during daytime in the present while wearing a helmet that allows him simultaneously to tail a bombing suspect along the same streets at night, four days in the past. He gets to crash into stuff in a camouflage Hummer, that’s always fun.
Jim Caviezel has a few creepy scenes as the suspected terrorist (he’s gone from playing Jesus to just plain crazy), Val Kilmer co-stars in a thankless role as the FBI agent on the case, with Paula Patton (who co-starred as the up-and-coming singer in OutKast’s “Idlewild”) as a young woman who unknowingly holds clues in the past — even though she’s dead the first time we see her.
It’s not enough to have the beautiful, vibrant Patton co-star in the movie, not enough to have her shower and then tiptoe around her rambling old French Quarter house in a towel yelling, “Hello?” when she thinks she hears a noise. She also gets to fall for Denzel, who’s old enough to be her father.
But hey, that’s the most plausible form of time travel in the whole movie.