May 3, 2007

Movie Review: Next

No, it's not just a clever title. The name of the movie is Next, as in "wait for the next movie to come out." I did not pay attention to the content of the reviews coming out, but the tone has been overwhelmingly negative. I didn't want to believe it. I mean, you have source material from Philip K. Dick, a decent director in Lee Tamahori, and lead roles filled by Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore. It almost seemed like a slam dunk, but then again, this is Hollywood we're talking about. The final film is a mess of story, a lack of character, and just a great premise turned into a cheap gimmick, a parlor trick worthy of Cage's Frank Cadillac.

The story concerns Cris Johnson (Cage), a man with the ability to see two minutes into his own future, to see the effects of his decisions, allowing him to choose the correct one. He has chosen to use his ability to make a living, flying under the radar in a town that wouldn't bat an eye at the low rent spectacle he provides as Frank Cadillac, Las Vegas. However, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Moore) has different plans for our two bit trickster. You see, terrorists have smuggled a nuclear device into Los Angeles with plans to detonate it on American soil. Callie wishes to use Johnson's skills to track down the weapon before it goes off. There it is, the thrust of this pointless exercise in aggravation.

The film moves along in a disjointed fashion that makes little to no sense. Bits of plot are thrown about like pieces of popcorn thrown at the noisy teens in front of you, inconsequential and ultimately another exercise in frustration. We are informed of Johnson's ability through a voice over from Cage, while we are given two extended set pieces to show it in action. At this early point, I thought that beside some poor special effects, it wasn't all that bad. We are presented with Johnson evading security in a casino following his foiling of a planned robbery, followed immediately by a car chase featuring a pretty nice, and brand new, piece of product placement, a Dodge Charger. They were well staged, and actually fun to watch, sadly, they were the best parts of the movie.

OK, now we get mentions of how he saw this girl (Liz played by Jessica Biel) further into the future than he had ever seen before. I assume we were supposed to glean this information initially from the opening credits, which I just found to be interminable. Before you know it, he has evaded the FBI, met the girl and is on his way out of town. During this time we also learn that the terrorists, which I think were Russians, know about Johnson as well, and are working on finding him and killing him. What? OK, how do these guys know about him? And how exactly does Ferris know about his ability? There is an allusion to him being studied as a kid, but Ferris reacts rather blankly to this.

The concept of a character seeing the future is not a new one, but the way that it is portrayed here is an interesting one, though it is not developed much beyond the "look, I can keep trying until I get it right" type of gimmick. Although, I did get a kick out of his approach of Liz in the diner, and the cameo by Michael Trucco (Anders from Battlestar Galactica). There were a few times that it didn't seem to make sense, like the factory scene towards the end, which kind of lost me, and frankly was unnecessary.

The more I think about it, the more annoyed I become with it. What was the Russians plot? What tipped them off to Cris? How did Ferris learn of Cris? What did the government do to him as a child? What was his connection to Liz? Why could he see her so far ahead, among other things? Why did Julianne Moore look like she was sleepwalking? What's with Nic Cage's hair? Why does the lovely Jessica Biel character find Cage's character attractive (that right there is an unconvincing piece of fiction if I ever saw one)? So many questions left unanswered. Don't even get me started on the ending.

Watching the movie makes me want to read Philip K. Dick's novel upon which this was inspired, The Golden Man. For that matter, I just need to read some of his work. I am certain that would be a much more rewarding experience. The opening was compelling with the casino escape and car chase, but nothing lives up to it. For one thing, the visualization of the ability in action is varied, inconcsistent, and at times jarring. Secondly, the story doesn't take off, never offers anything resembling an explanation, the characters never gel, and chemistry is poor at best.

Bottomline. I went into this hoping to like it, and the well staged opening did a lot toward moving me in that direction, but everything quickly spiraled downward. This is another example of a good concept that could have pointed towards an intelligent thriller, but is boiled down to the bare minimum for a quick flash and little else.

Not Recommended.


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