Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
Frequency is the story of John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), a New York City cop who digs his dead father’s ham radio out of a closet one night. Thanks to the aurora borealis (no, really), his transmissions are sent thirty years into the past, allowing him to strike up a conversation with a 1960s firefighter named Frank… who happens to be his dad (Dennis Quaid) using the same radio. It’s a touching, heartfelt story about tracking down a serial killer– wait, what?
Basic screenwriting tells you it’s good to have more than one plot going on at the same time in your movie. It’s particularly noticeable in television, where every show (from domestic sitcoms to paramedic dramas) tries to weave a B story into an A story. The key word there is “weave.”
“I… I love you, son…”
“Can’t talk, Dad, I gotta crack some fuckin’ skulls down at the station!”
From a cause-and-effect standpoint, yes, the story of father and son reconnecting does lead directly and logically into CSI: Timestream, but tonally? It’s a loud, crunchy gear shift that sounds like something’s wrong under the hood. A goofy premise like “magic time radio” is sort of charming for a heartwarming family story, but it becomes laughable once we slam into full-on crimefighting mode. Two believable characters abruptly transform into 1960s MacGyver and 1990s generically gritty CBS cop.
Now, that isn’t to say the film isn’t enjoyable; while both the emotional parts and the thriller parts are a little cheesy, as Emmerich-produced family-friendly entertainment goes, you could do a lot worse. It experiments a bit with its time travel (more on that in the spoilers section) and manages to throw some dark twists at its protagonist without being a worthless bucket of depression for depression’s sake like The Butterfly Effect. And, whereas that film suffered from a lack of suspense due to a readily available method of travel, both Caviezel and Quaid are simultaneously experiencing time in a straight line, so there’s no “going back” if one of them slips up.
Think of it like two constantly open portals, exactly thirty years apart… or, um, magic.
Jim Caviezel is… in this.
Like Deja Vu, but now he’s a good guy.
Dennis Quaid’s fatherly performance consists of talking about Elvis and the Amazin’ Mets in a terrible New York accent.
“Baseball blue seude shoes Empire State Building, baby.”
And that hair he’s lovingly leering at? Why, it’s Juliet from Lost. Elizabeth Mitchell makes a sweet mother and a nice nurse, which I think are interchangeable in movies.
Here we see her baking cookies.
Andre Braugher plays a detective who’s friends with Frank in 1969 and works with John in 1999. He’s mostly there to piece together, then disbelieve, then believe the time shenanigans. There should be a name for that character in all these movies.
The Figure Outer?
Noah Emmerich certainly wasn’t cast in this movie because his brother Toby wrote and produced it. He plays the main character’s slice-of-Americana best friend who’s always around to fetch him a beer with the label facing the camera– hey, that’s just his character from The Truman Show!
Now that’s a beer.
And there definitely aren’t any kids that grow up to be famous.
Oh, no way–
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
There’s no conventional “jump through the glowing thing” time travel in this movie, unless you count the aurora borealis. Still, we do get to see some changes in the past ripple through the future. Many of them are subtle, like Frank burning a message for John into a desk, which we see appear one letter at a time in 1999.
“Dad! Enough with the ethnic slurs!”
Others are entirely not subtle, like the furnishings in John’s home going all flubbery after a particularly drastic alteration of the past.
Wub wub wub.
There seems to be a lack of consistency to changes in the timeline, switching between real-time, fades, and flubberings, but I have a feeling these were some rushed effects and what they got was what they got. Especially in the scene where the guy’s– no, that part’s too funny for me to ruin.
If you’ve seen this, you know exactly which effect I’m talking about.
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- There’s a special feature on the DVD about “The Science Behind Frequency.” Get a load of these random topics:
- Scientist Brian Greene pops up on televisions in both 1969 and 1999. Deja Vu also pretends to be smart by namedropping him in their time travel movie, but they just gave him a consultant credit.
- Time travel rules spoiler. In my quest to watch as many time travel films as I possibly can this year, I’ve eventually just given up on so many of them fudging the fact that memories seem to stay intact despite the rest of reality rippling to fit new timelines. Welp, this movie actually addresses it… in a way that’s unfortunately also dumb. Apparently, John remembers both sets of events. And it kinda fucks him up. No, that doesn’t make any sense, but it could be effective in a darker, Cronenbergier sort of time travel movie. Everyone but John simply remembers the new timeline, because ham radio magic I give up.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
It’s more of a morality freak-out than a science freak-out, but Frank becomes overwhelmed at just how many things in the future can be changed by one decision, which he feels immense guilt over.
“He killed her! And I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it!
We changed everything, Johnny. It’s like we cheated.“
Call it the Cast Away of time travel; on a list of movies your mom might like, it’s pretty watchable. There are uplifting moments and a few tense scenes, and if you just go with it, the corniness can grow on you. Just don’t think too hard about the “science” and you’re good to go. I’m not saying you need to run out and buy it right this second, but if you see it in a bargain bin, maybe pick it up and give Mom a visit?
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.