The first thing I didn’t believe about Déjà Vu, the latest package of combustible goods from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott, was the shamelessness of the filmmakers. Scott, a man of famously well-oiled visual facility, squeezes every bit of crackerjack dread he can out of the sunny New Orleans ferry ride that opens the film, crosscutting like a Madison Avenue Hitchcock between a pack of partying sailors and the level below them, where the Beach Boys’ ”Don’t Worry, Baby,” floating out of a parked car’s radio, becomes the lovely counterpoint toâ?¦a bomb blast that blows everyone on board to smithereens. Scott and Bruckheimer must think they’re making a ”relevant” thriller: Terrorism! Half-burned bodies falling to their deaths! In New Orleans! All I could think was, this is what it looks like when tragedy is shoved into the Hollywood exploitation compactor.
Then again, maybe I’m taking it all too seriously. Déjà Vu has a smear of topical frosting, but it’s really a solemnly preposterous time-warp surveillance thriller. The movie manages the singular feat of placing a science-fiction premise in a realistic setting, only to render that premise even more far-fetched than it would have seemed otherwise. Arriving on the scene, Denzel Washington, as ATF agent Doug Carlin (please, Denzel is so not a Doug — which accounts, perhaps, for his generic performance), is led to a chamber jammed with caffeinated tech types, like jittery Adam Goldberg, and sprawling video screens. It’s there he discovers the brave new frontier of digital surveillance. Using footage from four different satellites, the dweeb geniuses of government security interpolate the footage with computers, which allows them to present a full-on ”movie” of any setting from any angle, with the ability to go behind any closed doors. Here’s the catch: The image synthesis is so complicated that it can’t be replayed — they have to just let it run. Thus, there’s but one fleeting chance to glimpse the terrorist.
Are you buying any of this? Déjà Vu rips off Minority Report, with echoes of Blow Out and the virtual-reality thrillers of the early ’90s, and one’s eagerness to roll with it gets tested the moment the surveillance begins to poke around the house of Claire (Paula Patton), a beauty whose singed body was fished out of the water after the ferry blast. Denzel gawks at her image and falls in love with her, but the cheesy blend of voyeurism and ”romance” is a bit unseemly considering that he’s investigating the deaths of 543 people. Besides, it’s not as if he can change the past. Actually, scratch that. In Déjà Vu, you can change the past, as Carlin ”enters” the four-day-old surveillance footage, hurtling down highways to play rewind with reality. In doing so, he attempts to thwart the terrorist, played with been-there-bombed-that creepiness by Jim Caviezel as a gloss on Timothy McVeigh (how convenient it wasn’t al-Qaeda). Déjà Vu is watchable trash, meticulously edited in Scott’s skip-stutter style, but there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about a thriller that more or less makes up its rules as it goes along.