You can see how “Next” got made, and how it managed to rope in not one, not two, but three A-list stars in Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel. The premise is killer: Cris Johnson (Cage), a two-bit Vegas magician can, in reality, see 2-minutes into the future at a time, which comes in handy when FBI agent Callie Ferris (Moore) needs help to search out a nuke that has been smuggled into the U.S. by a team of professional Russian mercenaries. And oh yeah, although Cris can only see 2-minutes into the future at a time, for some reason he saw the appearance of Liz (Biel) at a diner farther ahead than 2-minutes, and has been waiting for her at said diner for some weeks now when, behold, she finally appears.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what they call “high-concept”. You can pitch “Next” in a couple of sentences, and people will instantly “get” or not get it. In this case, the studios got it enough to get it made with a relatively big budget, and found their star in Cage. And you know what? Cage is perfect for the role. Cris is not an easy character — lonely, melancholy, and at the same time, incredibly thoughtful and prone to spontaneous utterances of (amusingly) obscure facts. Cage, as he’s always managed to do in the past, plays the oddball so perfectly that you wonder if he wasn’t turned into a superstar just for such occasions.
Alas, “Next” proves to be something of a one-trick pony, and because a movie about a man who can see 2-minutes into the future at a time seems pointless without a larger plot to cash in on the gimmick, the filmmakers have devised the nuclear bomb threat. (“Next” is similar to the recent Denzel Washington film “D’jÃ vu” in this regard.) This results in a disappointingly by-the-numbers thriller plotting, with Ferris and her FBI agents attempting to force Cris into service, while the Russian mercenaries are constantly one step behind them and, in some cases, a couple steps ahead depending on plot needs.
The first half of “Next” is almost entirely action-free, but still manages to be the film’s finest half. While the nuclear threat looms in the background, Ferris is preoccupied with finding Cris, who is himself preoccupied with Liz. Although you have to wonder why Ferris’ bosses are allowing her to expend so much resource on a paranormal chase with, you know, that whole nuclear bomb thing going on. Meanwhile, the Russians are also wondering why the FBI is so interested in a little-known Vegas magic act, and are also in search of Cris. If it was ever made clear what the Russians are doing with the nuke, I must have missed it; but since it’s such a throwaway plot, I’m not all that interested in finding out.
“Next” is based on the short story “The Golden Man” by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, who has always been more than a tad obsessed with characters that can see the future, and who becomes embroiled in a dilemma because of it. 2003’s “Paycheck”, 2002’s “Minority Report”, and even 1990’s “Total Recall” were all based on Dick’s works, and all featured clairvoyance in the plot. In the case of “Report” and “Paycheck”, the ability to see the future was the basis of the stories, while “Total Recall” only mentioned it as an aside. Unlike those other films, which were all set in the future, “Next” is set in the present. And although I have never read the original story, I’m willing to bet that Dick’s only real influence on the movie’s production designs is an hour into the film, when Ferris has Cris inexplicably hooked up to a cruel looking futuristic device that holds his eyes open.
“Next” does offer up an extended 20-minute gunfight to make up for all the lack of action in the early goings. With Cris now recruited to fight terror, Ferris and her team locate the Russians at a dock, where the action is fast and heavy, and make you wonder what director Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) could do with a full-blown war movie. The guy certainly knows how to choreograph an action sequence. This is also where the film makes you believe it had the potential to be something really great by exploring its premise even further. At one point, in order to “clear out” multiple levels in an ocean liner being used by the bad guys as a base of operations, Cris literally splits himself into multiple, individually tasked Cris Johnson. Of course, then there’s the ending…
You would have to regularly indulge in science fiction to fully appreciate what “Next” is trying to do. While it’s not a powerhouse of deep intellectual ideas, it’s still pretty good if you happen to love this stuff. My favorite episodes of the “Star Trek” shows (in all their various incarnations) have always been their time travel episodes. “Next” is basically one long, 90-minute “Star Trek” time travel episode. The film is chock full of gimmicky “see the future, stop it before it happens” moments that would surely drive those not used to, and indeed are not appreciative of, such devices up the wall. It is most certainly repetitious, but it sure is fun.
In the world of big-budget Hollywood action movies, “Next” falls somewhere between what could have been and almost there. It doesn’t completely meet all expectations, but it does do enough good things that I will recommend it for those of you out there who enjoy science fiction. The cast is certainly up to the task, with Cage, as mentioned, born to play these types of roles. Biel does well enough with what little she is given to do, and one can easily see why Moore decided to join the cast. Moore’s Callie Ferris is a hard-charging G-woman, and Moore just digs into the role with great flourish. And maybe it’s just me, but Moore in combat fatigues, blasting away with a Glock, while her signature red hair (in a ponytail no less) flails behind her is just brilliant stuff. I could watch that for days.
Lee Tamahori (director) / Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, Paul Bernbaum (screenplay), Philip K. Dick (novel story “The Golden Man”)
CAST: Nicolas Cage … Cris Johnson
Julianne Moore … Callie Ferris
Jessica Biel … Liz
Thomas Kretschmann … Mr. Smith
Tory Kittles … Cavanaugh
Jason Butler Harner … Jeff Baines
Michael Trucco … Kendal