Teaming for the third time with Denzel Washington, director Tony Scott finds himself at the top of his game with "Deja Vu," a smart, explosive techno-thriller that remains compelling right up until its brain-twisting (but ultimately logical) ending.
While there's a hint of "Memento" and a bit of that high-tech, "Big Brother is watching" theme found in Scott's "Enemy of the State," there's plenty that's unique about the intricate and generally airtight script by newcomer Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio (co-writer of "Shrek" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" pictures) to suggest you haven't seen this Jerry Bruckheimer production before.
Factor in a vivid New Orleans backdrop -- it was the first post-Katrina film to shoot in the city -- and you have got a potential boxoffice powder keg, though, even with the boost of a midweek opening, it could take a bit of a hit by going up against 007 so early in its run.
The story starts off with a considerable jolt, provided by a bomb blast aboard a New Orleans ferry carrying hundreds of unsuspecting passengers. Brought in to investigate the act of terrorism is ATF agent Doug Carlin (Washington), who discovers that among the dead is the body of a young woman (Paula Patton) whom he has reason to suspect had direct involvement with the person or persons responsible for the tragedy.
Without revealing too much more, suffice it to say Carlin is not only able to retrace the events leading up to the explosion in a highly advanced way but might possibly be able to go back and prevent it from occurring with the help of some extremely classified, time-warping technology.
Unlike the last Scott-Washington matchup, "Man on Fire," "Deja Vu" boasts a muscular, fast-forward story that won't be overwhelmed by Scott's need for speed in the form of rapid cuts and all that visual fusion that have become his stylistic trademark. Here, the approach is perfectly suited to the picture's time-shifting, multitasking structure.
But while capably addressing the commercial demands of a Bruckheimer movie, the script also has some fresh, penetrating observations to make about that mighty force known as destiny and the ultimate effects of messing with the past that will have viewers thinking long after the Macy Gray closing-title song, "Coming Back to You."
In front of the cameras, Washington is absolutely the right man for the role, and his constantly probing, level-headed federal agent plays to the actor's fundamentally decent, shrewdly intelligent strengths. The audience is ready and willing to go wherever he's planning to take them, even those who weren't prepared for a little brain stimulation along with the escapism.
The rest of the cast -- including the beguiling Patton, a low-key Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg and Erika Alexander among his fellow crime-stoppers and a surprising Jim Caviezel as the avenging perp -- provide sturdy support.
So do those bracing post-Katrina locations, especially some of the more devastated areas that provide a starkly tangible contrast to all those head-scratching musings on "wormholes" and "Einstein-Rosen bridges."
They effectively anchor this forward-thinking, backtracking sci-fi thriller in the all-too-credible present.