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Movie Review: 'Frequency'

Friday, April 28, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

"Frequency" and its publicists pose a question for us: If you could travel back in time and change one event in life -- the chance to un-do something really bad -- what would it be?


Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images

Players: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Web site: www.Frequency

Critic's call: 2 stars


I take this personally, not rhetorically, and hardly know where to begin. A few candidates for undoing:

1. The conviction of Oscar Wilde.

2. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson.

3. The election of Rick Santorum.

4. My decision to buy a new 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit.

5. The choice of floral wallpaper in our bedroom.

It makes for a better parlor game than motion picture, but that hasn't stopped people from making movies like "Frequency" in the hallowed tradition of celluloid speculations (and "Saturday Night Live" skits -- "What If Eleanor Roosevelt Could Fly?"), where God or angels or other metaphysical forces help dead wives assist live husbands, and vice versa, with everything from romance to resurrection.

The dubious theology of such exercises ("Always," "A Guy Named Joe," "Heaven Can Wait") appeal to the childish wishful thinking in all of us -- including John (Jim Caviezel), a cop in Queens, who still mourns the death of his firefighter father (Dennis Quaid) 30 years before. If only it could be undone...

Atmospheric conditions suddenly turn weird: The aurora borealis is acting up in a way it does only once every 30 years. John finds his dad's old ham radio in the closet, plugs it in, and -- through the static -- bingo! They're in touch with each other across the Time-Space Continuum. First off, son saves father from the fire in which he died. Soon enough, they're solving past murders in advance -- or advance murders in the past -- undoing a set of serial killings one by one, the future adult son directing the now-undead father to rescue the past victims.

Among other things, it wreaks havoc on your scrapbook: As past events change, so do John's old clippings and framed photos, updating themselves every time somebody who died doesn't.

I am confused.

Let's just say, for the sake of film-fictional argument, that you DID establish and maintain radio contact with your long-dead father. What would you talk about? At some point, wouldn't you be moved to ask a deeper question or two? Like, have you met God yet? What was She wearing? How's the weather in Heaven? Is there a smoking section? Do they have cable?

Or -- more technologically prosaic -- how do you think this thing works? How have we and a short-wave radio bridged the time barrier? Will "Scientific American" want an article? Since we can change history, do you think we should we do something about the JFK assassination?

But NO. These guys talk almost exclusively about baseball -- the Amazing Mets of '69.

Director Gregory Hoblit is aiming for a feel-good thing here, and Quaid and Caviezel are appealing. But as far as anything resembling logic is concerned, there are more holes in "Frequency's" script than in Saw Mill Run Boulevard. No effort is made to explain how or why this is all happening, except for some vague connection to the aurora borealis over Queens.

Hah. This is where I play my trump card: I took astronomy in college in New York in 1969, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, you couldn't even see the MOON let alone the aurora borealis through a telescope in any of the five boroughs. It was like looking through cream of mushroom soup.

Which reminds me that I knew an Irish hippie girl named Aurora Borealis O'Toole in those days, but that's another story, almost -- though not quite -- as absurd as this film.

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