The science fiction thriller _Frequency_ asks a number of questions, a
few of which are showcased in its trailer. "What if you could reach back
in time?" "What if you could change the past?" "What if it changed
everything?" The most important question, however, is left uncovered:
"What if you had an interesting premise and then went about it all
wrong?" The answer to that query is the disappointing film itself.
The root of that problem is clearly evidenced in the trailer. Buzz
around Gregory Hoblit's film had been building steadily the past few
months, and at first the preview proves why. The idea behind Toby
Emmerich's screenplay is intriguing. In 1999, cop John Sullivan (Jim
Caviezel) discovers the old ham radio that belonged to his fireman father
Frank (Dennis Quaid), who died in action nearly 30 years to the day.
Somehow, some way the 1999 radio is able to pick up signals from 1969,
namely those of Frank. John, who never had a chance to really know his
father, suddenly finds himself bonding with him through time and space by
way of the radio. But the seemingly innocent talk proves to have
far-reaching consequences, altering the past and future in ways that are
not always for the better.
So far, so good, but then the trailer ends on a completely wrong note:
Frank and a weeping Jim saying "I love you" to each other. It's a
jarringly maudlin note to end an ad for what had been sold as a thriller,
and it's to Hoblit and Emmerich's credit that in the film, the father-son
emotional angle is more smoothly embedded into the story. Even so, such
sentimentality is far from the director's strong suit. Hoblit's previous
feature credits are _Primal_Fear_ and _Fallen_, two films that are
characterized by--and whose success was largely due to--their darkness
and cynicism. Those aren't exactly the best qualifications to tackle
something with as severe a case of the warm fuzzies as _Frequency_, and
as is typically the case with underqualified directors attempting
something "deep" and "emotional," sentimentality becomes schmaltz.
There is one big problem hidden by _Frequency_'s trailer, and that is
the wrongheaded shift that occurs about midway. Up until that point, the
interesting premise has its appeal and wonder, but it suddenly morphs
into a typical serial killer thriller, with John attempting to nab a
murderer of nurses. The special wrinkle is that the killings take place
in 1969, and Frank has to do the legwork under the advisement John gives
in 1999. That proves to be just a minor detail, though, for we get the
familiar scenes of Frank skulking around bars, following suspicious
characters and having suspicious characters follow him. Even more
familiar is the fact that the killer's reach extends to Frank and John's
There's still that great hook, though, but in retrospect there is
another miscalculation at work. With premises that delve into the
fantastic, one should either offer a thorough explanation or none at all;
you either try to make logical sense, or just make the audience accept it
as a given. Emmerich and Hoblit wrongly attempt at a middle ground. It
is implied that Frank and John are able to communicate through time
because radio transmissions are trapped over time in the Aurora Borealis,
but there's nothing beyond a vague reference or two. Such a
half-hearted, unclear reasoning is sure to leave no one satisfied.
The two leads, however, do not disappoint. Quaid hasn't had a major
league role in years, and he proves here that, when given the chance, he
can deliver. Frank is a good, upstanding guy, and Quaid makes the
character a lot more interesting than that basic description would make
him out to be. Caviezel first caught my--and many other's--eye with his
standout work as the de facto lead in _The_Thin_Red_Line_, and the
reasons why I like him so much may very well be the reasons why he may
never become a big star; he's an introspective, subtle performer who
doesn't resort to broad theatrics. His internal approach works well for
John, who must hide his inner pain and inadequacy under the tough façade
of a police detective.
They--and the rest of the strong cast--deserve better than _Frequency_.
Then again, the idea behind _Frequency_ deserves better than _Frequency_,
which proves that having an inspired idea is only half the battle in
making a good movie.