Too much of a Baby Boomer sci-fi fantasy of the Rod Serling
variety to lure post-"Matrix" younger audiences in astronomical numbers, New Line Cinema's strong April 28 wide release "Frequency" is nonetheless a crowd-pleaser with a fairly fresh premise--what if a Mets-loving father and his son thirty years in the future could communicate, save each other from harm and change history?
Director Greogory Hoblit ("Primal Fear", "Fallen") is partly if not mostly successful with this deadly serious cinematic channeling of a wildly improbable scenario, written by newcomer Toby Emmerich
, who has been president of New Line's music division for five years. The excellent production values and tuned in cast are key elements in exploiting the inventive payoffs. One goosebump-raising example is an ecstatic cop played by Andre Braugher
(NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Streets"), silently becoming a believer as he watches with fore-knowledge a key moment in an historic baseball game.
Leads Dennis Quaid
and Jim Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line") ham it up, but in a good way, as fireman father Frank and cop son John Sullivan, who through time-jumbling magnetic storms caused by the sun reach out to each other across the decades via the same ham radio. The film's biggest obstacle for some viewers is ostensibly its biggest selling point to genre fans, a convoluted plot that several times resorts to spacy montages as a way to help the fantastical premise move along.
Otherwise, there's no real romance, a bit of baseball and, yep, a serial killer. The front-end story of Frank takes place in October 1969, with the aurora borealis lighting up East Coast skies at night in beautiful, slowly shifting curtains of light and the Amazing Mets headed into the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Mets still win in five games, but a lot of other headlines are messed around with in one of those puzzling science fiction conundrums that has the past and future co-existing on different planes and in weird ways medling together.
The movie seesaws between the two worlds after we're introduced to both, starting with upright, honest, solid-as-a-rock Frank (Quaid) in '69, who is loved dearly by his wife Julia Elizabeth
Mitchell) and worship by young son Johnny (Daniel Henson
). Best friends include Frank's fellow public servant Satch (Braugher), a police detective, and Johnny's neighbor Gordo (Stephen Joffe
). All appears hunky-dory as the northern lights mystify and Frank's heroic tendencies seem to go along with a charmed life.
Drifiting off into cosmological areas best dealt with tangentially, we suddenly find ourselves with grown-up Johnny, now just John (Caviezel), still living in the family house thrity years later. He's also still friends with Gordo (Noah Emmerich
), who remembers John's dad and his love of ham radios. You see, Frank died in a fire before the end of the Series, and John's life has not turned out too hot. Indeed, we're introduced to the near rock-bottom John when his mate (Melissa Errico
) is leaving him.
Once contact has been made and both Sullivans believe they are communicating across time, John tells Frank about his impending death and history is changed. But in a nifty device whereby family photos and scrapbooks in the John's time keep changing, every action has a consequence. Frank still dies before his time from lung cancer, so John gets him to quit smoking. But when John starts fearing for his mother--after a random visit by Frank to the hospital where Julia works results in a killer (Shawn Doyle) surving poor doctoring--the movie morphs into a thriller/detective story.
As such, it can get mighty entertaining but eventually hinges on a violent resolution that lacks the desired punch. But the long running time is put mostly to good use. Many unanswered questions remain, but there's no mystery to the timeless contributions of cinematographer Alar Kivilo
, production designer Paul Eads
, editor David Rosenbloom
and costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo
in making the widescreen production a visual home run.
New Line Cinema
Producers--Hawk Koch, Gregory Hoblit
, Bill Carraro
, Toby Emmerich
Executive producers--Robert Shaye, Richard Saperstein
Director of photography--Alar Kivilo
Production designer--Paul Eads
Costume designer--Elisabetta Beraldo
Casting--Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich
John Sullivan--Jim Caviezel
Jack Shepard--Shawn Doyle
Julia Sullivan--Elizabeth Mitchell
Satch DeLeon--Andre Braugher
Gordo Hersch--Noah Emmerich
Samantha Thomas--Melissa Errico
Running time -- 115 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13