OK, so Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott were asking for it by naming their latest mega-production Déjà Vu. As the opening credits roll—by which, of course, I mean roll, zip, flicker, fade, zoom, and swerve—you get a good solid smack of the Tony Scott touch. The man never met a strobe cut, filter effect, or inexplicable helicopter shot he didn't love. In this case, it's the boarding of ferry passengers heading across the Mississippi for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Given the way they've been sliced and diced in editing, you'd think they must have plunged into some gnarly vortex of the space-time continuum. We'll be getting to that.
So yeah, Déjà Vu: You've seen it all before. Except you haven't quite, since the movie does have a freaky little trick up its sleeve. The story goes like this: The ferry blows up (seen it), Denzel Washington struts on the scene to investigate (seen it), clues are discovered (seen it), a dead girl is found under mysterious circumstances (seen it), Val Kilmer arrives looking kind of pudgy ( . . . ), everyone heads off to a top-secret government base and climbs into a gigantic spark plug. There, they begin to retrace events with the help of "Snow White," a next-level satellite surveillance system that renders real- time composite images of anything that happened four days ago. A time machine, in other words.
It's at this point in an otherwise routine techno-thriller that Déjà Vu takes a delirious turn into what might generously be called preposterous sci-fi gobbledygook, but is just as accurately described as the most unexpected essay on movie metaphysics ever plunked down in the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster. Hunched over Snow White, Washington and Kilmer retroactively cyberstalk their only lead in the case (the exceedingly lovely Paula Patton). As they jiggle controllers like God on an Xbox, their bosses explain how space can be folded in half, like a sheet of paper. Or a wormhole. Or whatever. Point is, during all this pseudoscientific yip yap, we've been watching characters in a movie watch characters in a movie of their own direction. It doesn't take a double major in quantum physics and cinema studies to realize that time travel in Déjà Vu is precisely the concept of movies themselves. Snow White is a screen into the past, and what film isn't?
Of course, Scott is less interested in concepts than high-concept gimmickry. But why complain when it results in a car chase that simultaneously blows shit up on two different time planes? Scott does begin the third act with relative restraint, sending Washington to hunt down a disgruntled patriot (Jim Caviezel) who killed 500 sailors because, you know, the government sucks and stuff. Scott wouldn't know subtext if it rose out of the bayou and ripped off his arm, but that doesn't stop him from sprinkling on references to Katrina, domestic terrorism, and Iraq. So Déjà Vu reinvents itself once more as a time-travel romance meets antiterrorist action flick. Had Scott kept going with this batty project—there's a musical and a dinosaur picture in here somewhere—I'd have followed him all the way. NATHAN LEE