Without any prior knowledge of the film, a savvy moviegoer might guess thatDeja Vu is about time travel from the opening sequence, which provides one of those attention-grabbing visuals that can serve as a tether-pole around which to swing lots of different time lines. The visual is a New Orleans river ferry filled to capacity with uniformed sailors and their families. They are either returning from duty or having a celebratory twirl around the river before heading out -- I can't remember which. But in the midst of their revelry, no one notices a creepy Tim McVeigh clone, played adequately by Jim Caviezel, who parks a Range Rover laden with explosives on the boat and then splits. The cosmic ripple in this otherwise terrestrial act of terrorism comes when the investigator assigned to the case, Denzel Washington, finds after arriving on scene that one of the victims attempted to contact him by phone hours earlier. It's a nice setup, but unfortunately director Tony Scott has no rabbits to pull out of his famous red ballcap this time.
If you pair up Scott with a good screenplay, watch out. Through his collaborations with Shane Black, Quentin Tarantino, and Jim Harrison, we know that he has no interest in ruining a good thing once it lands in his lap. But without the grounding a good script provides, Scott invariably goes off on an aimless visual tear, as with films like Domino and Man on Fire, or pours gallons of energy into badly conceived tech-fantasy films like Enemy of the State. He also grabs at opportunities to nurse his own strange compulsions, like the need to emasculate sophisticated machinery -- to bust it down to size. In Top Gun, a jet fighter is juxtaposed against a motorcycle, to show that both are just something you throw a leg over and kickstart. Days of Thunder has a scene where the dueling drivers abandon their fancy stock cars and hop into civilian cars to go race down the highway. In Deja Vu, Denzel does everything short of give a wedgie to a nerd who tries to explain to him the mechanics of a time machine.