In `Deja Vu' as in most films, time travel is a bad idea

The Gripe

the gripe

November 24, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

Note to makers of thrillers and love stories: Leave time travel to sci-fi experts, comedians and the occasional existentialist.

A sci-fi comedy like Back to the Future moves quickly and humorously enough to make us pleasurably suspend our disbelief, and a quasi-Buddhist frolic like Groundhog Day wittily forces time to repeat itself and then stand still.

But as a gimmick in a self-serious genre movie, time travel almost never works. The magic time-portal mailbox (yes, you read that right) in The Lake House, now out on DVD, sabotages the amorous chemistry of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as well as wreaking havoc on the characters' credibility and intelligence.

In the engrossing, accomplished new suspense film, Deja Vu, you must swallow hard to accept some FBI techies' ability to spin out alternate timelines the way a spider does web.

And there's no emotional payoff to Deja Vu, either: the convoluted plotting leaves room for Denzel Washington and Paula Patton, our hero and heroine, only to exchange a few freighted words and heartfelt glances.

Even the most serious time-travel movies, like Chris Marker's remarkable La Jetee, get their impact from the passions of the situations and the characters.

My favorite time-travel movie remains the wonderful 1960 George Pal production of The Time Machine, because the core of that movie is the hero's relationship with his best friend.

It isn't just a hook but a strong emotional current that energizes the story, as the time traveler discovers how loyal and in his own way valiant his more stable buddy can be.

Pal's effects are more primitive than the ones in Deja Vu, but they still tingle, because he thought them through from the inside out.

His time machine is like a cross between a Phoenician boat and a super sleigh. The sequence of the hero racing through the ages is brilliantly designed - it hews so closely to his point of view that you feel as if you're gliding giddily along with him.

In Deja Vu, in contrast, all the high-tech accoutrements can't camouflage an affective and imaginative vacuum.

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