I know, I know, you've seen it all before. And this being a Jerry Bruckheimer slam-bang action thriller, you have too. There will be the kind of cast that immediately inspires confidence (Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Bruce Greenwood). There will be a demolition derby car chase through the streets. There will be big explosions at regular intervals, high tech gimmickry, so on and so forth.
All these staples are present and correct all right, but artfully filtered here through a mind-boggling sci-fi concept that worms its way into the formula like a virus.
Denzel plays New Orleans ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agent Doug Carlin, an explosives expert who is quick on the scene when a ferry carrying 500 navy servicemen is blown up. Impressed with his intuition and local knowledge, FBI man Kilmer invites him to join a top secret investigative team pioneering new satellite tracking surveillance techniques.
These techniques take some swallowing: they involve a one-off opportunity to monitor a place in time exactly 4 and one half days in the past; a kind of constant streaming flashback. Obviously this device will allow them to see who plants the bomb, but not until four days have elapsed, which may be too late. Doug suggests they keep tabs on Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton, from Idlewild) instead, an incinerated corpse who mysteriously washed up prior to the explosion - if they can figure out who murdered Claire; it could be guy they're looking for.
As Doug guesses, the satellite spy-ware is not what the FBI claims it is. In fact the device is even more implausible, something to do with infiltrating a nuclear-generated time warp, or something (my own science is nothing to boast about and I confess my eyes glazed over during the explanation). Long story short: after gazing at Claire for a couple of days, Doug decides to go back in time to save her (understandably enough), and of course those 500 sailors too, though they're little more than an afterthought by now.
Who knows what screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio were smoking when they hatched this one - maybe they've just watched Donnie Darko too many times - but as a film-watcher you have the choice to let it ride or check out early, and where's the fun in that? The cast keeps a straight face, and within the highly selective terms of its own ludicrous physics the movie plays fair.
Director Tony Scott is one of the least pretentious moviemakers around, and so you can sure this third collaboration with Washington (the others were Crimson Tide and Man on Fire) is not remotely concerned with the philosophy of time travel, not even on a Back to the Future Baby Einstein level. Instead it's about getting Denzel driving the wrong way down a busy bridge wearing a time-telescope on his head in hot pursuit of a four day old lead.
The movie could have used some sense of humour - instead it tilts for romance - but maybe audiences can be counted on to supply that quality for themselves.
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