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 family.
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, su
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