It’s nice to spare a thought every now and then for those movies that never really found the audiences that they were hoping for during their original release, after all there must be a legion of unloved and undiscovered films just floating around in the limbo of multiple streaming sites and all because they weren’t hyped enough or had a confusing or shitty poster.
Falling into this category of features that won’t exactly change your life but will pretty much guarantee a decent night in is 2000’s Frequency, an impressively gentle sci-fi thriller from Primal Fear and Fallen director Gregory Hoblit that merges the type of outlandish premise you’d get in a Stephen King short story with the sort of low key thrills and spills of an early M. Night Shyamalan potboiler to quietly endearing effect.
Daddy issue laden New York detective John Sullivan’s life is slowly evaporating as his girlfriend finally storms out after years of him being as emotionally stopped up as a bear butt-plugging itself before hibernation for the winter. However, when his childhood buddy unearths the old ham radio John’s late father used to fiddle with back when he was a kid, John gives it a whirl and thanks to a mysterious bout of aurora borealis and a huge dose of sci-fi bullshit, the detective getting chatting to a guy who turns out to be Frank Sullivan, firefighter, all around stand up guy and John’s dad who is speaking to him from the relative safety of 1969.
After a healthy spot of disbelief, the two men finally start to understand what’s going on when John spills some information relating to the events that led to Frank’s death in a fire that is due to happen the next day that leads to them inadvertently change the future. Struggling with the new memory that his father no longer died on the job in 1969 but instead succumbed to lung cancer in the late 80’s, John gets back on the radio with the 1969 version of his father to find that their accidental, Back To The Future style meddling has altered history in other ways.
Somehow, their screwing with time means that a nurse stalking murderer known has the Nightingale Killer never had his short spree cancelled by death and has since gone on to claim more victims, one of which being John’s mother, Julia.
As it’s 2000 and The Butterfly Effect is still four years away from being made, John gets his pop back on the time leaping radio and between them try and solve the murders back in 1969 in order to bring back the 10 extra victims the Nightingale Killer racked up over the next thirty years. However, if you push against time, it pushes back and over two time periods, the murderer goes seeking out two generations of Sullivan in order to avoid being caught.
Stuck somewhere between feeling like a casually subtle X-Files episode and a nostalgic family drama that won’t stop banging on about how much better the old days were, Frequency is about as unthreatening as a sci-fi sequel killer thriller can possibly get and that’s probably because Hoblit obviously has no interest in this sub-plot when there’s thirty years of posthumous father-son bonding to be done. In fact, the director seems to be so smitten with conversations about the ’69 world series to fully commit to the more faster moving mechanics of the script and at times you wonder why it even bothered. Much like how the movie itself stands astride two time periods, the plot seems unsure of whether to focus more on a father and son making use of this extra time they’ve been gifted or invest fully in a decades spanning collaboration to snag a lunatic – imagine if the final third of Back To The Future suddenly turned out to be Doc and Marty trying to bring Biff down because it turned out he had a side gig of strangling women. It’s not enough to overturn the time traveling apple cart, but it is enough to wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t have come up with a peril that didn’t shift the movie into a whole other genre during the final third.
I only complain because up to that point, Frequency is quietly gripping in it’s own modest little way and could have been something of a touching character piece as a son, his life crumbling because of dead daddy issues, finally gets the quality time with his father he’s been longing for. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are about my feelings, because usually if there’s any chance to throw in a left-field sub-plot, I’m usually up for it – Hell, I’d stick a serial killer plot into Forrest Gump if the movie could have gotten away with it – but I genuinely believe Frequency missed a trick by not standing by its family dramatics more fully.
With that being said, what the film does do with its concept shows intriging promise with the rules being clearly established while not being crammed down your throat – it’s happening to two blue collar guys from Queens, not Neil deGrasse Tyson – so that it doesn’t interfere with the storytelling. Having Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel play the main helps incredibly as their engaging performances make up for the fact that they can’t possibly be in the same room at the same time and also softens the fact that we’re essentially just watching two guys bullshit over a radio with some occasionally shaky Queens accents.
Still, we still get diverting spots of generation hopping problem solving, like Frank finding and hiding a vital piece of evidence for 30 years so John can unearth it and dust for prints, but its ultimately not as entertaining as watching Caviezel’s character hurling all the rules of time travel out the freaking window as his tells his dad literally everything about the future – Doc Emmett Brown would frankly shat himself.
Loaded with cast members that makes the first ten minutes an orgy of “Wait, is that (blank) from (blank)” moments (Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich and a borderline fetal Michael Cera), everyone gets that warm, soft vibe as they get all misty eyed and talk about the good old days and even if the final moments eventually lurch into well intentioned absurdity, it can’t fully erase all the good stuff that its managed to serve up till then.
Hardly a forgotten masterpiece, Hoblit, Caviezel and Quaid still deliver a touching drama with a shot of sci-fi that competently does the job if you find yourself on a similar wavelength.