Maybe it’s because the summer of 2009 has given us another Tony Scott film in The Taking of Pelham 123 and another episode in the Terminator franchise with Terminator Salvation, but this Smackdown from 2006 has been getting lots of traffic.
If people from the future could travel back to the past, wouldn’t they have already done it? Would it be better to see into the past or into the future? Do they both exist simultaneously, along with the present, because time is relative to where you are? If you like these kinds of questions, we have a couple of films to really put your through Olympic-sized paces in the Suspension of Disbelief event. We’ve put a couple of major star vehicles in our time travel machine, both of them about scooting back through the years in order to change the future, both directed by major directors with reputations for getting the action up there on the screen. Deja Vu is the more cerebral — Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the more literal — but both of them cause your brain to short-circuit if you think too much about twists-and-turns of time travel as they would have you believe it works. But this is an entertainment site, not a physics lecture, so let’s get to it.
The ever-likable Denzel Washington stars in the Tony Scott-directed Deja Vu, a collaboration that must work for both men since they’ve done so many films together. This one starts with a terrorist bombing of a New Orleans ferry as a way to get at that time-honored sci-fi question — if you could go back in time, could you also change the future? This film posits that with all those nifty satellites we have scanning the globe that there’s a way to use them to “triangulate” and snoop on anybody we want exactly four days in the past. Okay, that’s a stretch, but it works well-enough that this flashy Jerry Bruckheimer produced, Tony Scott directed movie still works. In a heavily-plotted script by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio, Washington’s ATF investigator uses this hot-new technology to time-travel back to save the life of a woman who holds the key to the terrorist’s identity. Naturally, he will fall in love her. Even more obviously, this will never pass the logic test, but even so, the action and suspense never really flags. Bruckheimer and Scott, as a team, have reputations for delivering a great evening’s entertainment with lots of loud explosions, fast cuts, and crazy violence — they don’t ask for too much thought but they do provide maximum diversion. The film works.
The Defending Champion
Remember how blown away you were when you first saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Granted, it’s Arnold back as the Terminator, only he’s a good robot now, and there’s an even badder, improved model that’s out to kill the boy who will grow up to save humanity. Even though this is written with great care by Cameron and William Wisher, it’s still all quite a stretch, too, but what fun! You have to get your head right to understand this one. John Connor, who came back in the first Terminator and was pursued by Bad Arnold, is only a teenager in this one but he is still destined to grow up into the leader of the human resistance against the cyborgs. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a huge actor between the first and second films so, box office logic dictates, his character must now be a good guy. This means his cyborg is re-programmed but a newer, nastier and tougher model is back after John Conner and Arnold’s old-fashioned Terminator must protect him. That’s all your really need to know, honest.
Both directors Tony Scott and James Cameron delivered big, intriguing films that are just plain fun to watch. Neither one of them stands up under an inspection of their logical structure and assumptions but both move with such velocity and passion that it really doesn’t matter. But the hooey-factor seems to be a little more in your face in Deja Vu because in Terminator 2 we just get the idea and move on. As you look at both of them, however, you realize that killing machines is concept of T2 and once you accept that, it’s smooth sailing. Deja Vu, however, asks you to accept certain things and then, after you’ve already swallowed a lot, along comes this wacky satellite configuration which asks you to swallow even more.
Denzel’s relaxed and confident charm makes him clearly the better actor than Arnold, something I feel ashamed to even point out. Fortunately, playing a killing machine asks very little of Schwarzenneger other than to be deadpan. For me, it raises questions why these analytical psychotic machines would send back a guy with such a thick accent but they make up for it with Robert Patrick’s viciously bland new and improved version. Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong really sell Terminator 2: Judgment Day with their passionate performances. It is hard not to root for Hamilton when she’s being held hostage by these nincompoop mental hospital bureaucrats.
In the battle of ideas, though, you probably have to give Terminator 2: Judgment Day the win. We probably know that all our technology is going to open Pandora’s box big-time but the spy machine of Deja Vu is not our nightmare fear. The fact that we empower machines to make our lives easier and they abuse the privilege and start to kick our asses, well, that’s primal baby and it really, really works.
When I first saw it, I liked Deja Vu as a great Thanksgiving weekend afternoon diversion and the illogic is papered over with such well-done action, and Denzel Washington is always so cool, that it really doesn’t matter. But fifteen years from now (maybe even two or three), we won’t be thinking of it anymore. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a film for the ages that people will see multiple times, and talk about in film classes. This goes to the rock-em, sock-em robots from the future…