Friday, April 28, 2000

Radio daze

Movie: Frequency

Posted on Fri, Apr 28, 2000 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

Dad was a heroic firefighter, happily married and living a sunny, blue-collar life in Queens. Junior followed in Dad's footsteps by going to work for the City of New York, varying only in his choice to become a cop instead of a fireman.

Years later, after Dad had long since died, Junior was fiddling with his old man's ham radio during an atmospheric disturbance. Over the airwaves, he heard a voice that sounded inexplicably identical to his pop's.

That's the point at which "Frequency" takes off. It is indeed John Sullivan's (Jim Caviezel) father, Frank (Dennis Quaid), on the other end, and thanks to some Hollywood magic, John gets to change the central event of both their lives -- Dad's death in a warehouse blaze -- and recast their fates.

But before everything can turn out peachy, there's a serial killer to find, as well as enough flash-forward and flashback action to leave everyone in the theater just about dazed and confused.

Contrived? Sure. This isn't the deceitful thicket of the nearly real that wowed us in The Sixth Sense, but it certainly challenges even the most attentive viewer. And about halfway into this slick little story, the contrivances stop mattering so much, as this cop yarn with a twist produces better-than-routine action.

The credit goes to first-time screenwriter Toby Emmerich and director Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear"). Even viewers eager to pick at inconsistencies in the illogic of time travel will find themselves absorbed in the various problems that impede the drive toward a happy ending.

That drive would be more interesting were John played by an actor more endearing than Caviezel, a relative newcomer whose hoped-for breakout role in The Thin Red Line was shredded by poor editing. Allowed the leeway to carry a picture, Caviezel doesn't impress: His John appears more pained than baffled by time's tricks. Whatever emotion his wounded-deer looks are intended to communicate, it sure isn't warmth. John wears the same expressions as a shell-shocked GI as when he's a time-traveling detective.

Caviezel's work contrasts markedly with Quaid's athletic, smiling portrayal. Quaid looks good even under some odd old-man makeup, and the screen lights up whenever Frank and his wife, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), appear together.

Fans of the always fascinating Andre Braugher will likely be disappointed. His character, Satch DeLeon, is a cop, but one not nearly as interesting as the flatfoot he played on TV's "Homicide: Life On the Street." Braugher has marginal impact on anything that goes on in "Frequency."

Then again, this gimmick-fest isn't about winning acting Oscars. It's about filling the seats with viewers who want a bit of challenge with their escapism. And on that order, it works just fine.

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