It’s disheartening to think of the number of movie characters with extraordinary powers who barely use them, or attempt to hide them from the world at large. I understand that there has to be some sort of narrative tension before the special effects budget can be justified, but speaking personally, if I had the ability to see two minutes into the future, I’d like to think I’d use my power responsibly, and only to help others.
After I’d made a tidy fortune playing craps and devised a strategy to bed Carla Gugino, that is.
Not Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage), however. A small-time Vegas magician who performs under the nom de plume “Frank Cadillac,” Johnson is content to supplement his meager earnings with low profile casino runs and otherwise keep to himself. Pity the FBI can’t say the same. The Feds are on the trail of a bunch of Russians with plans to detonate a stolen nuke, and they, in the person of Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), want Johnson to use his powers to predict where it will go off. That’s “Next,” Lee Tamahori’s latest directorial effort, in a nutshell.
But wait a minute, you’re saying, if Johnson can only see two minutes into the future, how is that going to help the FBI? Do their black helicopters have warp engines? Easy there, chief; for it turns out Johnson has extended predictive abilities when it comes to a certain person, namely Liz (Jessica Biel), whom Johnson has had visions of for over a week. When she’s involved in the time stream, his abilities are greatly enhanced.
One thing going “Next” has going for it is its running time. At scarcely over 90 minutes, the movie never gets mired in its own implausibility. You can forgive the apparent ridiculousness of the premise because Tamahori doesn’t give us enough time to dwell on it, filling any spare moments with chases and general mayhem.
At the same time, the film’s brevity keeps it from examining some of the more interesting questions raised. For example, there’s a scene where Johnson is strapped – “A Clockwork Orange” style – in a chair and forced to scan future newscasts for reports of the nuke going off, and he tells Ferris there’s nothing to stop the government from keeping him there forever. It’s a concept that might benefit from further examination. Also, what the hell is so special about Liz that she can affect Johnson’s powers? True love? Planets in alignment? An a*s that can crack walnuts?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that “Next” features a number of gratuitous Biel shots. Maybe not as many as the upcoming “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” but we still have Biel-In-A-Towel, Biel-In-Her-Underwear, Tight Jeans Biel, and Bondage Biel (shocker: the bad guys nab her). I’d make some sarcastic comment about her acting ability compared to her obvious physical gifts, but after spending so much time ogling her here as well as in her other favorite incarnation (Wife Beater Biel, as showcased in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Blade: Trinity”) I frankly have no idea if the woman can act at all.
As for Cage, his skills used to be a given, but his last several movies have caused a good many people to reevaluate that position. At least in “The Wicker Man” he showed a little emotion (even if it was largely hidden by the bear suit) here he seems mildly tranquilized/contemplating his inexorable hair loss, even when being shot at by snipers or when Liz is rubbing up against him (the inherent creepiness of which was best voiced by a small boy in the theater at the screening I attended who loudly asked his father, “Is she kissing her daddy?”).
“Next” is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “The Golden Man,” emphasis on the “loosely,” for unlike “A Scanner Darkly,” “Next” bears almost no resemblance to the original story. Hell, I’ve read “The Golden Man” and I never would’ve guessed the two were related if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me. Therefore, evaluating it as a Philip K. Dick adaptation is pointless. “The Lake House” is arguably more PKD than this.
But “Next” isn’t entirely horrible (unlike “The Lake House”). It’s noisy, nonsensical, and will fade from your consciousness even before you make it out of the theater lobby, but it’s entertaining enough, and Tamahori throws us a few curve balls to keep things interesting.