Tony Scott films tend to be a hit or miss affair. Deja Vu does not miss completely but it certainly isn’t a hit either. Denzel Washington plays AFT Agent Doug Carlin who is convinced that an investigation into the recent murder of a young woman will reveal the mastermind behind a horrific terrorist attack against a New Orleans ferry carrying returning servicemen and their families. During his investigation he is recruited by FBI Agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) into a special task force that has the technology to see into past. Before too long Carlin discovers that this technology may enable him to do more than simply look into the past.
The time travel narrative is always going to be a bit suspect and the explanation of time travel is no more implausible in Deja Vu than it is in The Terminator and Back to the Future films. The difference is that The Terminator and Back to the Future films give the audience such an exhilarating ride that they do not care about any inconsistencies. Unfortunately the drama and action in Deja Vu is so mild that is does not adequately distract the audience from the gigantic plot holes and general silliness in the narrative.
After doing so much extraordinary work earlier in his career it has been sad to witness Denzel Washington so frequently appearing in mediocre films. His work in Spike Lee’s Inside Man gave a brief ray of hope that he had returned to doing something interesting but Deja Vu is a step backwards. Despite giving a solid performance, he really shouldn’t be in Deja Vu since it is little more than an average B movie that would have gone straight to DVD if it wasn’t for the money and big names attached to it.
Having said that, Deja Vu does contain a highly imaginative car chase where the time travel concept is beautifully utilised to both explore the ethics of manipulating time and to create the sheer spectacle of the chase. This sequence makes the film worth watching, as does the opening scene where Scott skilfully uses every stylistic trick in the book to slowly build the audience’s dread about what is about to happen. It is such a pity that the rest of the film is not as engaging as these two standout moments.