Tony Scott doesn’t even wait for Déjà Vu to properly begin before employing the spastic visual stylings that are his calling card, inaugurating his newest exercise in aesthetic freneticism by rewinding and repeating the production companies’ logo sequences like a DJ scratching vinyl. Perhaps his eagerness stems from the fact that, for this time-traveling terrorist thriller’s first portion, opportunities for cinematographic gimmickry and schizophrenic editing are few and far between, with Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio’s script initially following New Orleans-bred ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) through a standard investigation into the bombing of a civilian and naval officer-populated ferry. After being relegated to jazzing things up with superfluous pans around conversing characters, Scott finally kicks into frenzied gear after F.B.I. agent Pryzwarra (a pudgy, reserved Val Kilmer) lets Carlin in on an enormous secret: through a combination of satellites and wormholes, the government can watch the past—specifically, a constantly running feed of four days ago—via a god’s-eye camera that can zoom in and around a restricted geographic radius. It’s a nifty device that offers Carlin the means to both crack the ferry attack case and prevent the seemingly related murder of Claire (Paula Patton), whom the lonely Carlin, desperate to save someone, falls in love with while watching her on the feds’ supernatural History Channel.
Along with its trippy mobile headset version, it’s also a gadget (dubbed “Snow White”) that allows the director to freely indulge his techno-surveillance fetish, piling high-speed computer graphics on top of digitally enhanced images that are fractured, slowed down, and sped up with less reckless abandon than any given scene in Domino, but nonetheless typical Scott gratuitousness. As the minions of Adam Goldberg’s religiously inclined programmer joystick their way through recent events, Denzel fruitlessly strives to bring some desperate, burning romanticism to the off-the-wall action, his hero’s quest, which eventually involves taking a risky one-way trip through the wormhole, simply leading to some mind-bending paradoxes, plenty of corny melodrama, and a few encounters with James Caviezel’s Timothy McVeigh-style patriot. Though dedicated to the citizens of New Orleans and featuring brief ventures onto Bourbon Street and into the devastated Ninth Ward, Déjà Vu wisely avoids too many glib Katrina references, as well as sensibly distracts attention from its dubious quantum physics-related time travel theories with regularly scheduled bursts of hectic action. If, however, there’s a familiarity to the film’s wired mise-en-scène, use of both Denzel and a cute Fanning girl (here, a cameoing Elle), and a climactic act of redemptive martyrdom, don’t worry—it’s not an instance of the titular phenomenon but, rather, the more mundane result of Scott merely replicating Man on Fire.