Thursday, 8 November 2007

Next (2007)

Thursday, 8 November 2007
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writers: Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh & Paul Bernbaum (based on a screen story by Gary Goldman and a story by Philip K. Dick)

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Cris Johnson), Julianne Moore (Callie Ferris), Jessica Biel (Liz Cooper), Thomas Kretschmann (Mr Smith), Tory Kittles (Cavanaugh) & Peter Falk (Irv)

A Las Vegas magician with the ability to see 2-minutes into his own future, is wanted by the government to stop a terrorist attack...

A loose adaptation of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's The Golden Man (1954) former Bond director Lee Tamahori's Next finds Nicolas Cage back in Las Vegas (has an actor ever been so serendipitously linked to a city?) as Cris Johnson -- a stage magician with the genuine ability to see a few minutes into his own future. His gift allows him to cheat at card games and avoid government agents sent by Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who wants to capture him and use his clairvoyance to prevent an imminent terrorist attack....

It sounds fair enough, but Cris fears being locked up forever as a lab rat, essentially becoming one of the crime-preventing "precogs" from Dick's other novel, Minority Report -- although the resulting scene here owes more to A Clockwork Orange. He's also intrigued to find his powers (limited to 2-minutes hence) can be stretched into hours if the future involves beautiful stranger Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel)...

For such a juicy premise, Next is a huge disappointment that finds success in its action-orientated moments, but struggles to engage you in the main storyline. Cris's gift/curse is neatly portrayed throughout, though -- with scenes of him "miraculously" avoiding agents in a casino being an early highlight. More usually, the film delights in having its narrative suddenly lurch backwards by a few minutes, as you're suddenly made aware you were just watching a possible future.

Unfortunately, beyond the premise, amusing ways to show glimpses of the future, and some decent stunts orchestrated by Tamahori, everything else is bland and vague. In particular, the terrorist villains are complete ciphers, whose motives aren't even explained. They're figurative bad guts in the lamest sense, which cripples the act three's shift into anti-terrorism shenanigans.

Nicolas Cage usually gives fun performances in bad movies (Ghost Rider, anyone?), but even he sleepwalks through Next and seems mostly uninterested. There are the usual eccentric touches added to Cage's character (his stage name's Frank Cadillac, because he likes the cars and Frankenstein), but there's little else to sink your teeth into.

Julianne Moore is a wonderful actress, but she always seems to flounder when asked to play government hotshots (see Hannibal), and is stranded here with a blank character who only exists to be the face of the good/bad government agents who want to exploit Cris's talent.

Jessica Biel is always likable and gorgeous to look at, but that's all she offers as Cris's love-interest Liz. Putting aside the fact she's young enough to be Cage's daughter, she just slides from spirited companion to damsel-in-distress and never recovers.

Ultimately, Next just about sustains your attention because of its various "time tricks" (including a great Groundhog Day-style seduction) and a handful of great stunts (a car chase, logs rolling down a hillside, a nuclear blast), but the absence of memorable characters, an non-specific dilemma and very sketchy villains is its undoing.

It's a decent 30-minute idea stretched to 90 minutes, without the depth to take its surface-level entertainment to the next level. It's also unintentionally hilarious and very cheesy at times. To cap it all, the finale left a bad taste in my mouth – as it's a logical, but annoying, twist ending.

Next, please!

Paramount Pictures
Budget: $70 million
96 minutes