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Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Déjà Vu": Washington at his most familiar

Seattle Times movie critic

Opens today

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Dj Vu," with Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson, Erika Alexander. Directed by Tony Scott, from a screenplay by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio. 128 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality. Several theaters.

Tony Scott's odd but entertaining time-travel thriller "Déjà Vu" features plenty of Science Moments, that Hollywood-movie phenomenon in which supporting actors costumed to look like MIT graduates explain scientific concepts to the movie's star (and, by extension, to the rest of us).

Here, Denzel Washington gets told about wormholes and quantum physics and "a single trailing moment of now, in the past" — but his character, an ATF agent named Doug Carlin who's investigating a bombing, just isn't buying it. It's rather endearing: He grins and looks skeptical, and the physicists keep explaining, and eventually he just kind of agrees to accept it so they can move on, which is what the audience needs to do too.

So if you can do that (me, I'm still turning over the movie's ending in my head, but I suppose I just need to accept it and move on), "Déjà Vu" might work just fine for you. Scott, longtime purveyor of clock-ticking action thrillers ("Man on Fire," "Spy Game"), here dips a toe in the time-travel genre, and while he stubs it just a bit, the movie's saved by an appealing star, a swift pace and a vivid setting (New Orleans, parts of it devastated by Hurricane Katrina). Washington's played roles like this before (he was a similarly smart, jovial cop in "Inside Man" earlier this year), but he knows how to convey intelligence with a quick gaze, and to lighten a mood with a playful tone of voice.

The screenplay, by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, doesn't give much backstory on Carlin, but Washington plays him as a loner who cloaks his darker moods in breeziness. Unexpectedly falling in love with the subject of his investigation — a beautiful woman named Claire (newcomer Paula Patton) who is by all reasonable measures dead — he's surprised by the fervor of his efforts to find the key to her murder, and to a related bombing of a ferry.

Introduced to a renegade team of physicists who've created a way to revisit the recent past (by "folding space back onto itself," in case you were wondering), Carlin races backwards in time to try to save her.

It's all very high-concept, and like most of Scott's movies it's longer than it needs to be, but there's something irresistible about the technology at its core, with a bunch of wisecracking techno whizzes (Adam Goldberg, as their bearded leader, has a funny deadpan) totally at ease with the idea of bending time to their whim. It's a bizarre form of Hollywood science, requiring Washington to strip down to his skivvies before getting zapped into the past. (Hey, in "Timeline," didn't they have to don medieval garb — i.e., put on MORE clothes — before doing the same thing?)

I'm hoping Washington's next outing lets him race a little less and act a little more; the hint of romantic yearning he brings here is intriguing, and something he rarely gets to explore on screen. "Déjà Vu" works as a serviceable star vehicle, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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