Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: Frequency

Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, and Shawn Doyle

History: An original screenplay written by Toby Emmerich (The Last Mimzy) and directed by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Hart's War, Fracture). This film was released on April 28th 2000 and was met with plenty of positive reviews with a few mixed. It was a box office success earning approximately 68 million, earning over triple it's original 22 million budget. It was originally going to be made in 1997 directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, 12 Rounds). The starring role was going to be played by Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, First Blood, The Expendables) but his salary requirement was too high. Neither would be involved in the final product.

My Personal History: My family went to see this when it was first released. There are very few films throughout anyone's life I think they can recall seeing more times than they can remember. This is one of those films. We all loved it so much we had to get it on tape (good old VHS) as soon as it hit store shelves. Since then we've had viewing after viewing and continue to enjoy the hell out of it to this day.

Review: It needs to be understood that I am going to have a huge bias toward this because of my history with it. Many of it's flaws I wouldn't have noticed over ten years ago during my first viewings I do see now. It doesn't quite demote its quality because I still consider this to be one of the most underrated and overlooked films of the turn of the century.

The film's brief opening exposition gets things going quick and at a consistent rate. First we meet the star of the show, Frank (Dennis Quaid). He is a firefighter on a rescue mission down in the sewers. Some workers are stuck down there in a flooded area with exposure wiring threatening to electrocute them. In typical tension building done the way movies do it they get everyone out JUST in time followed up by Frank getting out by the skin of his teeth. Following him was an explosion of fire out of the manhole. I may be a bit harsh saying it was a pretty cheap looking effect considering this was made over a decade ago. But that's when I reference movies like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. Not that it has to be at that level, but the effects in those movies were far better and they were made 7 and 9 years earlier. After the heroic rescue we meet Frank's family. It's a typical American family. Nice home, beautiful wife, a fun kid, and a love of baseball. It's a sweet and heartwarming image seeing the life they live. Fast forward thirty years to 1999. Frank's son John (Jim Caviezel) who we saw only moments earlier as a young boy is being walked out on by his current girlfriend. The American Dream image he lived with his family and his good friend Gordo playing baseball and learning to ride a bike are gone. He is now a down on his luck cop living a lonely life filled with failed relationships. He tends to spend a lot of time with his childhood friend Gordo (Noah Emmerich) and his mother Jules (Elizabeth Mitchell).

It doesn't take long for the plot to kick in which is reason number one why I like this move so much. It doesn't dilly dally around with punching us in the face with exposition for an eternity before things start up. One night Gordo and his son Gordy Jr (Played by a very young Michael Cera) are hanging out at John's house. George Michael... sorry... Gordy Jr stumbles across an old ham radio Frank used to use in the 60s. They reminisce about memories of the radio and Frank reciting lines like, "This is not a toy!" Eventually they decide to give it a try but doesn't work too well. After Gordo and Scott Pilgrim... sorry, sorry, Gordo Jr leave for the night John gives it another try. He gets a strange connection with an unknown man. They go back and forth about the ham radio itself and the world series. John talked about the games this unknown man is talking about was thirty years ago. They both are in different worlds but neither of them realize it. Before a real connection is made the line cuts. It turns out the person John was talking to was his father Frank thirty years earlier in 1969.

The time travel radio waves are being caused by an unusual series of northern lights showing up as south as where our new friends are, the Bronx. There isn't much of any science behind it. Which is fine. It's the same reason why I didn't want to see the typical, "Mr. President! There's a giant monster attacking New York City!" in Cloverfield. It didn't need that exposition especially since the concept of time travel is complex enough. Not to mention everything that is in the movie needs to be in the movie. Having a lengthy or even breaking away from the story to "explain" how this time travel frequency is happening would be silly. And to briefly tease the sentence before that, there are really no throwaway scenes. More on that in a bit.

John gets in touch with Frank again not much later. Things seem odd when a lot of familiar elements of John's childhood come up in conversation. John then recites to Frank (who he still doesn't know is Frank) his home address (John lives in his childhood house as an adult), who his family was and what they did, and then when Frank accidentally burns the desk and it shows up in the future John relays it over the radio to which Frank believes someone is creeping from outside the house. Just before the radio cuts out again John tells Frank how he dies. He tells him he is going to die the next day in a fire. "He went with his instincts. But only if he went the other way he would have made it!"

I am not going to give away everything in this review. I do want to talk about a lot of the changes to the past that happen because of this communication through time, though. So please read at your own discretion. Part of the fun of the movie is seeing how well it all unfolds and how the past will change with each alternate path taken.

John got Frank's attention because the next day the fire he said would happen did happen. While attempting to make a rescue in the fire Frank is about to go with his instincts but chooses to go the other way and find a different path. Safe to say he gets away. While this is happening, 30 years later John is at a bar having a drink with Gordo and Satch (Andre Braugher) celebrating Frank on the anniversary of his death. The moment, 30 years earlier, Frank decides to take a different path John is hit with a face full of new memories. He freaks out begging his friends to tell him how his dad died. "My dad didn't die in a fire?!" "No, John, cancer." In the matter of a few moments the last 30 years changed instantly. Nobody knows the difference besides John.... and kinda Frank.

After a heartfelt bonding sequence where it's finally understood that they really are communicating through time an investigation begins. A serial killer from Frank's time was never caught and John is investigating. They come up with a plan to try and stop the murders before they happen. This is also when we see the first sign of bad results coming from all the good that happens.

In time I have thought about the time travel concept they went with. To anyone with the most basic knowledge of time travel knows if anything is changed in the past it will change the future no matter how small the act may be. Frequency follows a "real time" time travel system. By this I mean everything that happens in the past that affects the future will affect the future the same date and time thirty years later. The films mostly follows this with some inconsistencies in how certain things are handled. An example of this is when Frank's death is replaced with Jules. As soon as John realizes he saved his father's life he calls his mom leaving a voicemail. You can clearly tell it is her voicemail. That night John falls asleep to a nightmare at a funeral. He calls his mom late in the night/early in the morning but a deli answers. This is the first clue that something is wrong. It's soon revealed she fell victim to the serial killer John is trying to catch. My immediate question is how does that compare to a few other things that happened? When Frank is initially "saved" John experiences 30 years of new memories of his dad being around but he doesn't remember his mom dying? And if all these changes already happened why did she have a voicemail around 10pm but by 4am it's a deli? Also if these changes don't have an affect on the future until they happen thirty years in the past then how come all these other memories came kicking in first? I also wonder about the details of where a person is on said day or what they wear or what they do, etc, etc, etc. When John and his buds met up at the bar they were there to celebrate Frank's life. Why would they be there if he didn't die in the fire? Did Frank die on the same day only years later of cancer? Why are they all sitting in the same seat? Same clothes? Same drinks? Why does the bar look the same? Why are all the same people (potentially) still there? If this were a consistent nit-pick on time travel consistency this review would be filled with them. It does feel like the changes that happen when they do are convenient for the time and situation.

The only other major "issue" I have with this film is the acting. Let's face it, it's not very well acted in a fair chunk of parts. Dennis Quaid is passable in most of his roles. Jim Caviezel really is a good actor but in this role his accent felt forced and unnatural. Then other parts felt like a cop drama like Law & Order.

The great thing about the acting is that they are convincing in their chemistry. Frank and John truly feel like a father and son. It's a very tender relationship. One of the reasons why I like this movie so much is because of their relationship. It's a great father son film for a father son pair to watch. It does make me think of my own daddy. After every viewing I feel I should give him a hug and remind him how much I love him and appreciate him for all he is and does for me.

This film is also really well written. As I stated earlier it doesn't have anything in it that doesn't need to be there. There are a couple things they could expand on but I digress. The best example I can use is a brief moment in character development. Early in the film Gordo talks about Yahoo and how he should have gotten on board when he did. During one of Frank and John's talks Gordo as a kid gets on the line. John calls himself Santa Claus and gives him a magic word. Yahoo. By the end of the film we see Gordo is filthy stinking rich! The only part I feel could have been expanded on is...
at the end when Frank comes into John's home saving him from the killer with a shotgun to the killer's chest. He conveniently shows up when Frank 30 years earlier shoots off the hand of the same killer who is also attacking in said same house the same night and same time. My question is that did Frank beat cancer when John told him that's how he would die? If so then where has Frank been since he gave up smoking so long ago and was alive all this time? It would have been nice to add a little bit to the giving up smoking element and maybe finding a slightly more creative way for Frank to show up in the present time.
*****SPOILERS END*****

I really do love this film. I love it so much. It is vastly entertaining with characters that you really do care about. Also it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what's coming up next. And while the time travel changes do raise a lot of questions if combed through with a fine tooth comb it really is still fun and interesting to see what changes do happen in the future. I do highly recommend this title. It was overlooked back when it came out and I can guarantee it is pretty underrated. Not to mention it has some really cool tricks when they take advantage of the changing of history as it happens.

Recent Addition to Collection: Burn After Reading

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