A pat on the back

“Dj Vu”Touchstone PicturesDirected by Tony ScottWritten by Bill Marsilii and Terry RossioStarring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Adam Goldberg, Val Kilmer and Jim CaviezelRated PG-13/128 minutesOpened Nov. 22, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Chris BellamyThe Daily Utah Chronicle

Give Tony Scott credit for showing a little restraint.

Generally speaking, particularly with recent efforts like the miserable “Man on Fire” and the unwatchable “Domino,” Scott comes across like an autistic infant playing with a camcorder, excitedly banging on random buttons for two hours. To say he over-directs all of his movies would be a massive understatement.

His overblown, pointless editing techniques and rapid-fire pyrotechnic camerawork are annoying at best, seizure-inducing at worst. Basically, he feels the need to throw as many arbitrary tricks and gimmicks on the screen as possible for the sole purpose of throwing as many arbitrary tricks and gimmicks on the screen as possible. He is his own films’ worst enemy-even the good ones.

But this time, with “Dj Vu,” he actually lets the story do some of the talking. For most of his career, he’s dealt with simple (even idiotic), testosterone-sculpting stories featuring shallow characters and appealing to only the most ADD-riddled 14-year-old boys. Maybe he wasn’t allowed to dumb it down too much this time because the story is actually interesting. Preposterous, maybe. But enough for an entertaining time.

Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is a New Orleans ATF agent investigating the explosion of a naval ship. To do this, he is brought in by government scientists who have discovered a pseudo time-travel device that allows them to see four days and six hours into the past in real time. The idea is that this will allow Doug to find clues and solve the crime.

Through a series of events that isn’t worth rehashing, Doug-who doesn’t seem surprised at all to discover this massive technological leap forward-figures out that the demolition of the boat is somehow tied to the murder of a woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton). And, in another twist, he discovers that he may actually be able to affect the past, thus changing the future-and perhaps preventing Claire’s death and the boat explosion altogether.

There’s a lot of fun to be had with a story like this, as ridiculous as it may be. Scott even utilizes some effective visual touches-look especially for the time-warped car-chase sequence-and the script gets some mileage playing with the whole time-space continuum thing.

With all the obvious plot holes that Scott and Co. seem to ignore, “Dj Vu” couldn’t possibly hold up to post-viewing scrutiny. Scott is only concerned with being entertaining and suspenseful, and in a lot of ways, he succeeds. He’s not as worried about the nuts and bolts-he just wants to get on with it. Indeed, if Scott were manually putting together an elaborate piece of furniture-or even, for that matter, a simple bookshelf-it would fall apart the first minute he sneezed.

But when we’re in the moment in “Dj Vu,” that doesn’t really matter. Its very absurdity is what makes it work-but that only gets you so far. At a certain point, the proceedings start to feel more than a little frivolous and tiring. There’s plenty of base entertainment value here, but it’s ultimately unfulfilling.

I will say this: It’s a huge step up for Tony Scott. Maybe he took his Ritalin this time. I didn’t walk out with a headache or a venereal disease. I even had a little fun. Now if there were only a little more meat and depth at the center of the script, he might have had something.

“Hmm, what is this? A washer? Wait, the washer of infinite greatness-I’m rich. Well, I’m already rich. I hate you, washer.” Denzel Washington mumbles in “Dj Vu.”

“Oh, you think you can defeat me? I played Jesus.” Jim Caviezel reminisces in “Deja Vu.”