An utterly preposterous but entertaining sci-fi action brain-bender, this "what if?" tale makes high-tech hay with the idea that deja vu isn't just a hiccup in the neural circuitry.
It begins on Fat Tuesday: New Orleans' Canal Street ferry, packed with Mardi Gras revelers, blows up just beneath the Crescent City bridge. The first responders include crack ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), a Big Easy native who quickly spots telltale signs that this was no accident: It was a deliberate bombing. Then his fledgling investigation takes a curious turn: The mutilated corpse of a young woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) washes ashore, apparently a blast victim. But forensic details suggest that she died before the ferry explosion, and the mystery deepens as Carlin examines her apartment. There's evidence everywhere — blood, a handgun, an enigmatic message in magnetic fridge letters reading "u can save her." But the shocker is a phone message from Carlin himself: He didn't know Claire, but she called him at work earlier that day. As representatives from competing law-enforcement agencies converge on the city, FBI special agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) recruits Carlin for an interdepartmental task force, ostensibly because he's local and excels at quick, penetrating crime-scene analysis. In fact, there's much more to it than that: Carlin is let in on a top-secret government surveillance program that captures multiple streaming satellite images in astonishing detail, even through walls and floors. The trouble is that they're always 54 hours behind the present, and footage of any particular time can be viewed only once — something about the capacity of existing computer systems to process such prodigious amounts of information — so if you're not watching the right spot at exactly the right moment, you're just peeping. Pryzwarra and his team need Carlin to figure out where they should be looking when the images from immediately before the ferry explosion come in. Trippy stuff, in a quantum physics kind of way, and it gets trippier — Carlin is no scientist, but he knows he's seeing something more than the world's most expensive spy-in-the-sky movie, and that's where the deja vu comes in. The plot machinations only get more ridiculous, but the pace never flags. The techno mumbo jumbo is anchored by an ensemble of straight-faced performances, from Adam Goldberg's super science nerd to Jim Caviezel's hard-eyed "patriot," although the culmination of all the time-warping shenanigans is gratifying only in a "run that by me again" kind of way. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh