Published Apr 01, 2000It's too bad that Frequency turns out to be a pretty dumb movie, because its plot has clever ideas, and it wants badly to be liked. Frequency would have felt well at home in the 80s, especially with its Spielberg-ian family values. It combines Back to the Future (using time-travel to correct parents' mistakes) with Field of Dreams (baseball as bonding agent between father and son), and throws in touches of It's a Wonderful Life. And in an era when family values have been generally ditched in favour of the self-absorbed singles lifestyle, we could use a film that potently expresses the unconditional love a real family can show. Unfortunately, Frequency isn't it.
It begins in October 1969, introducing us to Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a fireman and perfect dad who lives with his perfect wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell) and two perfect sons in a suburban neighbourhood where everybody is a Mets fan and loves Elvis. Frank's hobby is his ham radio, which he constantly tells his curious kids is "not a toy." Flash-forward (so we think) to October 1999, in which one of those two kids, John (Jim Caviezel), is now a cop with an imperfect life: his wife has left him because he "won't change" (we never find out in what way she means). We learn that Frank died in a fire in October 1969. John stumbles upon his father's old radio and contacts what turns out to be his father. Apparently they live in parallel universes (connected, somehow, through the aurora borealis) that run exactly 30 years apart to the day. John, knowing that Frank will die the next day (in one of those wild coincidences only a hack screenwriter could conceive), helps his father to save his own life, and proves his own veracity by predicting the 1969 World Series Game 1, play-by-play.
But an indirect consequence of John's saving Frank's life is that Julia gets murdered by a serial killer (Jack Shepard) in later October 1969. (Oops.) So now John, as he watches the headlines of a ratty old 1969 newspaper literally change before his eyes, has to use his father to save his mother from the sex murderer (who you know is evil incarnate because he has long hair). By the end, Frequency becomes a stupid action movie with lots of running, bullets and an ending so unintentionally funny that it's (almost) worth sitting through the film for it.
When will Hollywood directors learn that slow-motion is not emotionally stirring anymore? In Frequency, director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) stoops to this easy cliché every time there's a big moment, as if he knows he doesn't have the talent to make the big moments seem realistic. He stretches out the scene of Frank's escape from the fire to absurd proportions, when all we really needed to see was "bam, I'm outta here." Hoblit also can't get any depth in the performances, although that may not be his fault, since the characters are pretty one-note anyway. Quaid is okay as a Wonder Years-type 60s dad, but he can't make the movie work any better.