Of course, it will be irresistible for me to compare this film to my favorite sci-fi drama, "Contact." Both films feature a loving father dying young, leaving permanent scars on their children. The children grow up unable to commit to a relationship. Later, via some undefinable phenomena, the children have a chance to reconnect with their fathers. The two films even have very similar opening sequences. "Contact" was a near-perfect combination of scientific intrigue and emotional catharsis; and "Frequency" comes close to being so. Dennis Quaid shines in his performance as Frank Sullivan (despite his mysteriously disappearing New York accent), a reckless but gutsy fireman, a loving husband and father, an old-fashioned kind of hero. He pulls off angst easily and gives the character a much needed edge. Newcomer and Tom Cruise look- alike James Caviezel provides an equally adequate performance as Frank's depressed son John. The two actors and characters play off each other nicely (even when John was played by a child actor), as Jodie Foster and Russell Crowe did in "Contact." Frank's wife is a weak link in the triangle, with actress Elizabeth Mitchell only able to look meek and teary-eyed throughout the entire movie. Her Julia is sweet and flat like bubble-less coke. Andre Braugher portrays the other strong character, Detective Satch DeLeon, that injects the film with much-needed intensity, because the villains, to use my favorite phrase, are cardboard-cut and lifeless like Julia. Like "Contact," "Frequency" suffers from Uneven Characterization Syndrome. Even so, "Frequency" is packed with many thrills, albeit with portions of a recycled soundtrack. The film introduces the crucial concept or communicating through the ham radios early in the movie and even reveals a crucial plot development in the trailer; however, it still manages to surprise the audience at every turn with unexpected complications. The past (60's, 70's) is depicted with admirable nostalgia and almost (almost) unbearable sweetness, but this in the end is an important reason why we care about the Sullivans' problems at all. "Frequency" has created an almost-perfect fantasy world that seems grounded in reality--through, of course, America's national pastime--and history. This was the way the world ought to have been, with courageous firemen, boys who learn how to ride bicycles with their fathers, and wives who let their husbands stay up late and play with their ham radios. When this world clashes with the gritty reality of the late 90's, bad things happen and everyone wants the bad to go away.
The reason "Frequency" falls short of "Contact" (this is all subjective, of course) is because it has more fi than sci. Granted this movie was supposed to be "magical," but I would have liked more of an explanation than barely audible TV commentary in the background. They might have pulled off a plausible and satisfying explanation regarding how the Aurora Borealis might have caused a space-time warp above Earth and not made the film sound too technical. After all the idea is farfetched, unlike "Contact" which was at least based in part on real science. To say that anything of the sort is impossible is of course, reaching beyond the realm of my capabilities, which is why any kind of attempted explanation (instead of John dismissing the phenomena of how he is able to communicate with his father living 30 years in the past way too quickly) would have provoked thought and imagination. Any explanation would have been better than what we got -- which is nothing. Nevertheless, having John confuse his own memories was a nice touch, as were the photographs with disappearing subjects. It is what the film doesn't deal with that skirted on the edge of my consciousness during the movie. For example, what Frank and John change in the past is certain to affect other people. We don't see the film dealing with these ramifications. Also, who's to guarantee that the future can be changed? If John changed the past, what's to guarantee that at that moment at home he still would have found the ham radio? Wouldn't the result be null then? If the grand ending of all this is that the entire family lives happily ever after, would they have found the radio in the first place? A lot of details are simply glossed over, taken to be understood, like how his father appeared at the right time and place to shoot the bad guy. Basically, "Frequency" had the ambition and the essence, but not the science or coherence it needs to go all the way. I am not going to ask for too much, however. After all, it was a two hour movie, not an 800 page book. And in the end, the Sullivan clan look so sweet playing baseball together in that field and I can't help but feel happy for them, despite the Yahoo! joke and cheesy dialogue. What the movie did it did well, and it succeeded at being very entertaining and exciting. Plus, I'm inherently attracted to films like these, which is why "Contact" is one of my favorite movies of all time. It's got some tremendously beautiful, genuine moments, and even if it leaves a bunch of questions it succeeded in creating plenty of answers of the other sort. We only wish that we had the power to change the past like John and Frank had, and they seized the opportunity to create a better future. Well done.
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 6/2/00)
*Nice touch with Noah Emmerich and the brewski. Another "The Truman Show" connection: Carrey's wife in "The Truman Show" was also a nurse.