May 31, 2000 at 12:00 am

In the what-if scenarios of films such as Sliding Doors, characters wonder what their lives would be like if one pivotal moment in their past were changed, and are sent off to explore the different course they so desire. Frequency is one of the best of these films, because it involves something more than the navel-gazing of remorse-filled thirtysomethings.

Written by Toby Emmerich and directed with flair by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear), Frequency presents the ideal of a loving family which is so fragile that it takes extraordinary measures by a father and son to ensure its survival.

At the center of the film is a gimmick: A ham radio allows the 1999 John Sullivan (James Caviezel) to communicate with his long-dead father, Frank (Dennis Quaid), in 1969. Director Hoblit (who created a tangible reality from improbable circumstances in the underrated supernatural thriller Fallen) opts for a naturalistic style in Frequency. With the appearance of the aurora borealis above the Sullivans’ Queens home, he skillfully slides in the idea that a wrinkle in time is as possible as the New York Mets winning the World Series.

When the adult John, a troubled cop, initially talks to his father, a cocksure firefighter, there’s a sense of something important being recaptured, and he provides vital information to Frank about his imminent death. In one of several virtuoso sequences, Hoblit intercuts John drinking in a bar with his friend and police mentor, Satch (Andre Braugher), on the anniversary of his father’s death while Frank takes his son’s advice and survives the warehouse blaze that originally killed him.

History has been altered, and along with the good repercussions come some bad ones. Even as Frequency turns into a crime drama and the circumstances of these lives are altered by each action, the increasingly complex chain of events is grounded by great work from Quaid and Caviezel (The Thin Red Line). They turn this freaky sci-fi tale into a human saga of father and son.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].