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Touchstone Home Video presents
Deja Vu (Dèjá Vu) (2006)

Doug Carlin: What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they'd never believe you?
Claire Kuchever: I'd try.

- Denzel Washington, Paula Patton

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: April 23, 2007

Stars: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, Jim Caviezel, Bruce Greenwood
Other Stars: Elden Henson, Erika Alexander, Rich Hutchman, Matt Craven, Donna W. Scott, Elle Fanning, Enrique Castillo
Director: Tony Scott

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, some sensuality
Run Time: 02h:06m:18s
Release Date: April 24, 2007
UPC: 786936705270
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BAA- B

DVD Review

Jerry Bruckheimer has made a career out of producing bombastic films (and TV series) featuring over-the-top action, quick cutting, and gigantic budgets. A frequent collaborator has been director Tony Scott, who worked with Bruckheimer on the very successful Enemy of the State and Crimson Tide. Scott is known for a frenetic, fast-paced filming style that often alienates critics but delivers big numbers at the box office. Their most recent creation is Deja Vu, which features the expected car chases and explosions, but actually slows down to focus on the intricate plot. The complex story uses a modern setting but incorporates a time-travel device that adds layers to a fairly straightforward investigation.

Denzel Washington stars as Doug Carlin—an agent of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosions) in post-Katrina New Orleans. He is assigned to investigate a devastating ferry bombing that killed more than 500 people. Carlin’s early success brings him into contact with Agent Pryzwarra (a pudgy Val Kilmer), who heads a special task force. The cover story involves satellite imagery used for three-dimensional surveillance, but the remarkable details suggest something else. Can these agents actually observe past events? This appears to be the case, and tech expert Denny (Adam Goldberg) uses a lengthy explanation to explain their findings. Carlin is obviously skeptical, but the evidence is strong to support this science-fiction premise. Scott and Bruckheimer seem to enjoy using clever computer geeks with their crazy toys, and Goldberg perfectly embodies this common figure. However, his explanations are too flimsy to make sense and cause the pace to lag considerably.

The opening ferry sequence offers nearly 10 minutes with little dialogue, apparently designed to heighten the tension before the explosion. In one sense, this is a risky move for a blockbuster with an $80 million budget. Viewers are clamoring to see Washington and get involved in the plot, but must wait for the expected disaster. The suspense partially works, but it also includes some laugh-inducing moments that limit its effectiveness. These travelers appear happier than any group of ferry riders that I've ever seen. It's like the world's greatest party just took over this generic boat. In odd fashion, this scene made me think of Michael Moore's pre-invasion sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 that drew such a nasty response from conservative viewers. In both cases, the victims' lives appear perfect and then unknowingly end without any warning. It may seem like a strange comparison, but the multiple references to Oklahoma City and Katrina show that the writers were thinking about more than just crafting a genre picture.

While the investigation focuses on the ferry explosion, it takes on a personal touch through the discovery of the attractive Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), whose death indirectly relates to the terrorist act. While viewing her final days, Carlin becomes enamored and studies her for hours. Washington sells this feeling through a few brief scenes, which helps to raise the emotional stakes. He can sleep through this type of role, but brings enough weight to keep us interested in the goofy plot. Patton (Idlewild) has only a few previous screen roles, and she performs well enough to make her situation involving. Carlin’s investigation eventually leads him on the trail of Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel), a driven guy who may have committed the nasty act. Caviezel gives it his best shot, but his character’s limited screen time lessens the impact.

This story is easy to dismiss because of its elaborate plot, and I can’t disagree completely with any detractors. There are very lengthy scenes of technical exposition that remain clunky even while Scott tries to make them unique. Washington seems totally confused at times, which works for his character but also matches our own response. While mildly surprising, the finale does happen too quickly and isn’t enough of a payoff for the considerable buildup. As a science-fiction fanatic, I’m usually the target audience for this type of genre picture, but the emphasis on technology over character sometimes becomes too much. Scott’s energetic style worked perfectly for Enemy of the State, but it sometimes feels overdone here and should have taken a backseat during a few pivotal moments.

Deja Vu provides an entertaining ride with top-notch production values and a solid performance from its star. Washington has made fairly safe choices during recent years, but he always creates a believable presence. During a complex driving scene involving two time periods, he keeps us involved in the action. This sequence is one of the film’s best and incorporates some impressive stunt crashes. My patience for the sometimes-confusing plot was tested several times, but the overall experience is worthwhile. The New Orleans setting also helps to avoid the generic atmosphere prevalent within many thrillers. This is definitely not Los Angeles or Toronto. There are some slow points and some awkward dialogue that keep me from giving this film a high recommendation. If you’re able to look past the plot holes, however, it should offer two hours of worthy entertainment.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Deja Vu may offer a confusing plot, but its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer provides a pristine visual presentation. Tony Scott's numerous cuts and high-flying style mesh nicely with the sharp picture, which allows him to film intricate technology clearly. The images remain bright, and little grain exists on the screen throughout the feature.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This release also includes a top-notch 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer, which combines with the visuals to offer an excellent experience. The primary speakers offer considerable power, and the rear speakers help to generate a complex sound field. There are fewer action scenes than the typical Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster, but there still are plenty of opportunities for impressive audio. The car chase sequence includes booming sound, and the opening explosion also works. This transfer falls a bit short of the premier releases, but it does provide a memorable presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kyle XY: The Complete First Season Declassified, The Queen
8 Deleted Scenes
10 Featurette(s)
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Surveillance Window
Extras Review: Deja Vu includes a solid collection of extras and even resists the temptation to include a "this is theoretically possible" documentary. Those can be worthwhile in small doses, but often overdo the film's scientific importance. It would have been nice to see a more substantial look at the production, but the featurettes do offer some worthy details. The disc also includes five deleted scenes and three extended scenes, with optional commentary by Tony Scott available for all of them. We learn about a personal connection between Elle Fanning's Abbey and Claire and see more scenes depicting Carlin's attachment to the attractive woman. There is nothing groundbreaking here and the cuts are understandable, but they do offer a few interesting details to support the primary story.

The primary feature is The Surveillance Window, which allows you to learn about key aspects during the presentation. Each segment runs for about 3-4 minutes and is also available through a menu index. I prefer this route to keep from disrupting the flow of the movie. The 10 individual featurettes are described in the following sections:

The Ferry Explosion (4:24)
This featurette presents the difficulty in finding a piece of water to shoot the explosion. We also hear about the construction of the explosion from the special-effects guys. Surprisingly, there was minimal use of CGI, which led to an explosion rising more than 300 feet off the ground.

Developing the Character of Doug Carlin (3:12)
I can't really picture Denzel Washington as a "Doug," but he does provide a believable performance. The model for this character was real-life ATF agent Jerry Rudden, who was involved with investigation the Oklahoma City bombing. We hear from this advisor, Denzel, and Bruckheimer about Carlin's creation.

Makeup, Wardrobe, and Special Effects (2:26)
This extremely brief featurette covers these three broad topics by focusing on Paula Patton's makeup to become a dead body. We hear from Costume Designer Jake Garber and Patton about the preparation and see some quick behind-the-scenes footage.

The Surveillance Window (3:30)
No, this is not a misprint. One of the featurettes does have the same name as the feature. It focuses on the time lab set, which started out as a science-fiction design but was created in more realistic fashion. The idea for the surveillance footage partially came from the London bombing, which showcased a lot of video material.

Cameras of Deja Vu (3:08)
Tony Scott loves cameras, lots of them. He's also excited about technology, and we observe a new technique to craft a three-dimensional image from multiple cameras. By adding colors to this creation and then shifting to the set, Scott is able to generate some worthy shots.

Split Time for Car Chase (5:12)
This featurette provides behind-the-scenes footage of the car chase, which is one of the film's most impressive scenes. Stunt Coordinator Chuck Picerni and Director of Photography Paul Cameron discuss the unique remote control crane for better filming of stunt vehicles and the crazy, dangerous stunts involved with this chase.

Filming in New Orleans (4:26)
I would have enjoyed hearing more than four minutes about the decision to remain in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. We do hear comments from Bruckheimer and Scott about their choice that are interesting, and the actors discuss their response to the difficult situation.

First Team: Denzel, Tony, and Jerry (4:37)
We hear lots of praise from everyone for these three guys, who have participated in numerous quality (and sometimes awful) productions. Scott discusses how Bruckheimer reins him in, which scares me a bit since his style is still over-the-top. We also her about Scott's use of multiple cameras for long takes, which allows him to cut a lot but also works well for the actors.

Stunts: Compound (3:20)
This segment includes one of my favorite behind-the-scenes moments in a long time: During a fight sequence at the compound, we hear one of the crew members yelling "fight! fight! fight!" in the background. Taken out of context, this would appear to be some random guy urging on a fistfight. We also see footage of a few other key moments, including the ambulance crash and the explosion.

Stunts: Ferry (2:34)
This very quick featurette looks at the gunfight and explosions on the ferry. The big surprise is that Jim Caviezel actually participated in the car scene while attached to a strange cage. This was a dangerous stunt, and even daring actors wouldn't normally take on this type of scene.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Your response to Deja Vu will largely depend on your expectations for this Bruckheimer/Scott creation. Hardcore action fans may grow frustrated waiting for crazy sequences, while science-fiction devotees will wish for a more intelligent look at time travel. My reaction falls somewhere in the middle, as I appreciate the attempt at molding the genres but understand its failings. Largely due to Denzel Washington’s presence, it remains enjoyable, but isn’t too far from treading into ludicrous territory.

 


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