Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:57 - Released 4/28/00

It's amazing what kind of cool stuff you can come up with if you first throw logic and physics out the window. This is ably proven by Toby Emmerich, writer of Gregory Hoblit's quasi-science-fiction film Frequency, about a man who defies Einstein by way of a ham radio. This is Emmerich's first credit as writer after serving as a music executive for a number of films throughout the '90s. Maybe he shouldn't give up his day job just yet.

Although hero fireman Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), his wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and their son Johnny (Daniel Henson) are the happiest family in Queens in October 1969, something happens that wrecks their world: Frank is killed on the job. As Johnny grows up without a dad, he loses his interest in playing pro baseball and becomes a cop, like his dad's friend Satch (André Braugher). Thirty years later, in October 1999, John (James Caviezel) is 36 years old and depressed. But when he gets out his dad's old ham radio and tunes in, some sort of disturbance involving sunspots causes him to receive a transmission that was made 30 years ago, from the same house, on the same radio, by his own dear old departed dad. Somehow, the two men find themselves able to talk back and forth, in real time, in some sort of parallel universe thing. Don't ask me.

After a respectful nod at the incredulity of the situation, the two start chatting and discover that in Frank's world, it's just a few days before his death in a warehouse fire. With the help of John's advice and a long, curving, loop-de-loop sliding board (the kind you find in all old warehouses), he averts danger and lives through the fire. Suddenly, John's memories, and his scrapbook, change to accommodate a scenario in which Frank lived on for many years after. Unfortunately, however, it turns out that Frank's being spared led to some unsettling consequences involving John's mother, a bunch of unsuspecting nurses, and a serial killer (Shawn Doyle). Suddenly, Frank must scramble to save his wife and several others, using John's history lessons as his window to the future, and being watched with increasing skepticism by his buddy Satch (who, by the way, is also still alive in John's world, watching his behavior with increasing skepticism). Hope those sunspots hold out.

The acting is not bad in this film (although Quaid's Queens accent does tend to grate on the nerves), but trying to swallow a serious story based on such a laughable premise . . . I mean, why not just have the guy fall down a rabbit hole? Toying around with the laws of nature is not an altogether unforgivable thing; it has been done more successfully in films like Dark City, Magnolia, and Being John Malkovich. And it is fascinating to contemplate the myriad changes that occur when one seemingly small bit of history is erased. But Emmerich's text, and Hoblit's bland delivery, move Frequency a little too far off the dial to be taken seriously. ***

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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