Deja Vu

Twice Upon a Yesterday
Directed by Maria Ripoll

Twice Upon a Yesterday seems almost too geared for the Sliding Doors crowd. By relying on the same kind of conceptual sleight-of-hand as that recent Brit hit (which owed a giant debt of its own to Groundhog Day), this romantic fable's sense of originality and wit is greatly diminished. Although it contains a couple of very different -- and clever -- plot twists, Twice Upon a Yesterday resembles its predecessor in too many ways. Set in contemporary London, it features a lovelorn Scotsman with an endearing brogue and revolves around a "what if" scenario, as in: "What if events had gone in a different direction?"

Instead of two versions of the present running side by side, the new film gives its protagonist the chance to relive -- and thus change -- the past. Disheveled, unemployed actor Vic (Douglas Henshall of Angels and Insects) and hospital psychologist-in-training Sylvia (Lena Headey of Mrs. Dalloway and TV's Merlin) have arrived at the point in their long-standing relationship at which she wants more commitment and he wants less, a lot less. Only after obtaining his freedom does Vic realize that he truly loves Sylvia. By then, of course, it's too late; she is about to marry David (Mark Strong), a yoga enthusiast she met at a health club. A distraught Vic gets drunk and falls into the hands of two magical garbage collectors who transport him back in time to the morning of the breakup. With 20/20 hindsight, Vic doesn't make the same mistake again. But will the course of true love run any more smoothly the second time around?

Parts of this picture are highly enjoyable, although, as with Sliding Doors, one has to be somewhat of a romantic to get caught up in it (unlike Groundhog Day, which had such charm and humor that it appealed to cynics as well as to romantics). The film's weakness lies partially with the script, which makes Sylvia less sympathetic as the story progresses, but also with the characters -- or perhaps it's the actors -- who prove only intermittently engaging. This is especially true of Henshall, who, although he is playing a very different personality type, pales in comparison to the irresistible John Hannah of Sliding Doors.

Shot in England, with a predominantly British cast (exceptions include Elizabeth McGovern and Spanish actress Penelope Cruz), the film was actually written, directed and produced by Spaniards. Maria Ripoll, who studied directing at the prestigious American Film Institute and is a highly regarded television director in her own country, makes her feature debut with Twice Upon a Yesterday and shows a sure hand with both the surrealistic aspects of the story (most notably the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza-inspired trashmen and their fantastical garbage dump) and the more mundane romantic developments.

The junkyard sequence is, without question, the most bewitching in the film. The garbagemen -- 16th-century Spanish figures living in modern-day London -- have transformed their workplace into a whimsical playground of discarded refrigerators and dishwashers. The sense of wonder and magic that infuses this scene isn't replicated anywhere else, but then, Spanish novelist/songwriter Rafa Russo, making his debut as a screenwriter, clearly wasn't trying to fashion another Like Water for Chocolate. That's somewhat of a pity, because the scene casts a spell that the rest of the film fails to match.

Though it doesn't live up to its similarly themed predecessors, Twice Upon a Yesterday is an acceptable addition to the canon of romantic comedies and may prove just the ticket for viewers hungry for light fare with a romantic bent. And who among us hasn't wished we could travel back in time and change the past?

Opens June 18 at the Tivoli.
-- Jean Oppenheimer

The General's Daughter
Directed by Simon West

Simon West, the director of the new thriller starring John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe, likes the kind of close-ups that bore into an actor's face, exposing every clogged pore and mascara smudge. In The General's Daughter, his camera also tracks in to capture the thick layer of sweat coating the skin of both officer and enlisted man on duty at Fort MacCallum in the remote bogs of coastal Georgia. (The picture was shot in and around Savannah.) Travolta plays Paul Brenner, a detective with the Army's Criminal Investigation Division who is, as the movie opens, in deep undercover as a good ol' boy supply sergeant at Fort MacCallum with a thick-as-gravy Southern accent, the stump of a stogie and a shit-eatin' grin, hot on the trail of an illegal arms transfer. But no sooner is he finished with one job than an even bigger one, a murder, lands in his lap.

In fact, the biggest of his career. The victim is Capt. Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), an officer with SyOps, the Army's psychological-warfare division. Of perhaps greater importance to Brenner is that the captain is also the daughter of Gen. Joe Campbell (James Cromwell), the commanding officer at Fort MacCallum and, according to news reports, a likely national political candidate. As a detective with CID, Brenner is also an officer in the Army, a fact that the general and his fiercely protective assistant, Col. Fowler (Clarence Williams III), urgently press upon him. He should be reminded in conducting the case, Fowler says, that there are three ways a thing can be done: "the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way."

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