A reach, `Frequency' connects

April 28, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

My dad died 14 years ago, and there isn't a day goes by I don't wish there was some way I could talk to him.

In "Frequency," an enjoyably complex sci-fi suspense thriller from director Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear"), New York police officer John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) is given just that opportunity. Thanks to some huge sunspots, an overactive aurora borealis and what must be the most powerful vacuum tubes ever manufactured, Sullivan is able to reach back three decades and maybe a parallel universe or two and talk via ham radio with his firefighter dad, Frank (Dennis Quaid).

The two men spend an entire night catching up with each other. But then, John realizes there may be more to this than mere happenstance; it turns out he's talking to his dad the day before he will die in a waterside warehouse fire. This gives the younger Sullivan an idea: if he warns his father about what will happen, maybe it won't, and maybe dad and son can be reunited in the present.

But changing the past turns out to be not-so-simple. For while the elder Sullivan survives the fire by turning right where he once turned left, his survival has extended ramifications. Something he does later in the day, for instance -- something that would never have happened had he died -- results in a series of grisly murders, including that of his own wife.

Can the Sullivans continue to alter the past? Will they be able to unmask the killer, who to this day has eluded capture? Will mom and dad both survive to see their son join the force? And how long will those vacuum tubes hold out?

Promotional spots for "Frequency" tag it as a heart-tugger, a dead father-grown son reunion film reminiscent of "Field of Dreams" (there's even a baseball motif to connect the two films, as events unfold in 1969 just as the Mets are about to defeat the Orioles in the World Series). And there's no denying the emotional pull of the scenes where the two Sullivans reach across the decades.

But the film's structure, in which sometimes subtle alterations of the past result in major alterations of the future, tend to push the emotional core into the background. It's an age-old sci-fi theme -- Ray Bradbury once wrote a short story in which a time traveler, going back to the age of the dinosaurs, inadvertently kills a butterfly, dramatically altering the future -- but one open to an endless number of variations.

(Baltimoreans, of course, will be disappointed that one of the things no one bothers changing about 1969 is the Series result; if only Barry Levinson had directed this film.)

Quaid, affecting a Brooklyn accent, and Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line") manage to pull off their reunited-by-radio scenes without pulling too mawkishly at the heartstrings. And Baltimore favorite Andre Braugher proves a crowd-pleaser as -- surprise! -- a homicide detective.

"Frequency" stumbles occasionally when it comes to logic. The younger Sullivan, for instance, seems to know an awful lot about what his father was thinking while he was fighting that once-fatal fire. But because it's impossible to say exactly how tinkering with 1969 will affect 1999, who's to say the changes won't follow a logic all their own?

`Frequency'

Starring Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Andre Braugher and Elizabeth Mitchell

Directed by Gregory Hoblit

Released by New Line Cinema

Rated PG-13 (intense violence and disturbing images)

Running time 117 minutes

Sun score ***

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