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*Also starring: Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich, Elizabeth Mitchell, Jordan Bridges, Shawn Doyle, Daniel Henson

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Remember this? "Why'd she have to go/I don't know/She wouldn't say/I said something wrong/Now I long for yesterday." Don't we all? Time marches inexorably on. As we get older, the days seem to spin by at an ever-increasing clip. How we long to go back to the past and change the ways we messed up. We could have studied harder, pursued that special person more ardently, had a different career, expressed the love for our parents that we never had time to do. Some cynics say that if we could go back in time, we'd wind up doing the same things, making the same mistakes, and ending up pretty much as we do now--although an outstanding new sci-fi movie tells us that we could have had a lot more money if we only knew one word..."Yahoo."

This new movie is Gregory Hoblit's "Frequency," one with a more modest premise. Here, a 36-year-old man does not actually go back to the past to test these theories, but he is able to communicate with the most important person in his life, his dad. By knowing the way his father died, he is able to save his father's life, not once but twice. But in doing this he pays a price. Because the older man survives, unforeseen disasters occur, jeopardizing the lives of several women including the young man's mom. By manipulating a series of intricate, keen, and credible twists and turns, director Hoblit utilizes a crackerjack script by Tony Emmerich and some conscientious performances to fashion a film that is rich in surprises, tension, and cinematic wonder. With fireballs, explosions, a brilliant solar storm and a pulsating soundtrack, "Frequency" is "Armageddon" with a brain. "Frequency" is a multi-layered film wonderfully combining the themes of father-son relations, working-class culture, and a spooky murder motif. The razzle-dazzle camerawork doesn't simply show the radio conversations between dad in 1969 and son in 1999 with the expected split-screen effect but shoots the two characters as would a multi-camera TV show-- which significantly ups the already frenetic pace.

Instead of delving into character development the usual way, Hoblit shows us pretty much all we need to know about fire fighter Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) straight away. He is a hero who plunges into a New York sewer to rescue a man trapped inside. As gasoline spills about the ground, with electrical wiring about to convert an entire city block to a blazing inferno, Frank ignores orders to clear out. He completes the rescue. Frank is a idol not only in the eyes of the NYPD: his home life is a dream with a loving wife, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell) and a cute six-year-old, Johnny (Daniel Henson). The dream becomes a nightmare when Frank is killed in a warehouse fire. Thirty years after his death, his son John (Jim Caviezel) discovers an old ham radio just after a solar storm has lit up the sky and, plugging it in, he finds that he can communicate with the world of 1969 and talk to his father one day before Frank's tragic death. John saves the man's life, altering destiny.

At this point, the usual sci-fi movie might come to a happy conclusion, father and son perhaps finding a way to meet across time. In this particularly resourceful story, however, dad's deliverance leads to a chain reaction of disasters, as a serial killer changes his plans to go specifically after John's mom, dad, and even John himself.

Our emotions are orchestrated in many ways throughout this movie's bold feats of imagination. As we eavesdrop on the conversations between John and Frank, we root for them to communicate with each other in a way that would not previously have been possible given that John was only six years old when his father perished. At the same time, we get an insight into people who are the real heroes of our time-- not the yuppies of Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho" who make a fortune shuffling papers nor, I fear, the educators who bore their students in schools and colleges. The superstars are the people who make our lives safe from crime and natural disaster--specifically the fire fighters and the police. (Strange, isn't it, that when we were kids and asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we'd inevitably say "cop" or "fireman"? Do you know a six year old who would opt to be a stockbroker?) Finally, Hoblit layers in the crime strain. A serial killer is on the loose, getting away with the murders of ten nurses, living out his life in obscurity in a New York outer borough. Through the advantages of an old fashioned radio--and not via the flair of modern tools of forensic science or even a computer--a gray-haired assassin is warned that justice will be served: not in 1999 when the villain has already lived his life, but in 1969! Side roles serve the plot well, particularly that of Satch, a police detective (Andre Braugher), a long-term friend of Frank who believes that his pal is guilty of murder. Hoblit has also captured some good file footage of the 1969 World Series, showing his viewers what the Amazin' Mets were capable of doing back then.

Several factors add to the movie's credibility in addition to the choice performances of Caviezel and Quaid--who do not look like father and son but whose chemistry together belies that appearance. Photographer Alar Kivilo films pretty much on location--in Bayside, Queens and in Brooklyn neighborhoods including Red Hook; while costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo has kept busy displaying contrasts between 1969 outfits and those of the present, including the distinct uniforms donned by fire fighters during the Nixon administration. Toby Emmerich is the big surprise. The head of New Line Cinema's Music division for five years, Emmerich has penned this blockbuster as his very first screenplay. (For those who think that a good liberal education rather than simply film school is unimportant, we emphasize that Emmerich graduated from Wesleyan Phi Beta Kappa with honors in English and a concentration in Classics and Film.)

The production notes give the impression that not only is Emmerich's screenplay and Hoblit's direction beautifully meshed to make the action believable, but that time travel is indeed possible even if such a journey is not within our capabilities at present. Given credibility, solid performances, and dazzling effects, "Frequency" is this year's sci-fi film to catch.

(C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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