Directed by Gregory Hoblit
Review by Matt Heffernan
Time travel is a popular concept in science fiction and fantasy stories, but it always requires some logical bending, especially when a character travels to the past. Invariably, that character is going to change something to solve a future dilemma, but when the fix is made, that character should no longer remember the dilemma. For example, Michael J. Fox shouldn't have been surprised to see his parents change at the end of Back to the Future -- that's the way they should have always been for him. This week, a film has come out that handles such problems in a fairly original way.
John Sullivan (James Caviezel) is a cop in Queens, NY. His girlfriend, Samantha (Melissa Errico), just left him, and the thirtieth anniversary of his father's death is approaching. He was in no mood for company, but his friend Gordo (Noah Emmerich) had stopped by with his son. They find his father's old ham radio in the closet, and they try to set it up. John can only get it to work after Gordo leaves, but it works in an unexpected way. The Northern Lights are the brightest they have been in thirty years, which could allows radio signals to travel very far, but usually not this far.
He receives a transmission from a fireman in Queens, which would not be very impressive, except that it is from Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) -- John's father from exactly thirty years ago, with the same Northern Lights overhead. John warns Frank about the fire that will kill him the next day, so Frank takes extra care to avoid the same result. When he makes it out alive, John suddenly has a new memory of his father that conflicts with the old memory. His father now lives for another twenty years, but his mother (Elizabeth Mitchell) has now been murdered by a serial killer. John helps Frank track down the killer, and prevent the deaths of his mother and several other women.
Apart from its more conventional plot elements, Frequency offers a fresh, intelligent approach to the subject of time travel. Well, as you can see, there is no actual time travel, but the same gimmicks apply. What I especially liked was the idea of conflicting memory. Usually, the traveller has a conciousness separate from his contemporaries, and all sorts of silly games and excuses have to be made. For this film, first-time screenwriter Toby Emmerich (a music supervisor until now, and brother of Noah) creates a new mythology that makes more sense, even if it is still completely implausible.
What really makes the film work, though, are the action scenes. The film shifts into a thriller early on, and Quaid supports the action with a strong performance. The obligatory redemption scenes over the radio -- "I love you, son" "I love you, dad" -- lack any real emotional weight, but they don't really get in the way. Overall, the film is very entertaining, and should play well with most audiences.
I would still recommend Back to the Future over Frequency, because having a sound fantasy is really secondary to a truly inspired vision.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan