They say there are only seven basic stories Hollywood makes into movies, so trying to come up with one that’s different, compelling or just plain entertaining is quite a challenge. Next, a sci-fi thriller based on the short story The Golden Man by Philip Dick, boasts a fresh plot with a tricky twist ending that can be misconstrued if you don't pay close attention and then pause to think about it.
Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a Las Vegas showroom magician who goes by the name of Frank Cadillac. What his audience members fail to see is that Cris's magic is a cover up for his other ability. He's a pre-cog who can see his own future two minutes ahead of the time when it actually happens. This skill helps with his magic show as well as with filling his pockets at the blackjack table because he can glimpse the dealer's card in his future window. Surprisingly, Cris views his special power as more of a curse than an asset. He's also smart enough to know it's something that will actually ruin his life if he reveals it to the public.
Nicolas Cage and Peter Falk
When the casino personnel start tracking this obvious repeat "winner," they zero in on Cris, which results in a chase. Cris steals a car and flees to his friend Irv’s (Peter Falk) garage. Irv, who understands Cris's actions because he knows the truth about him, warns Cris he can't keep up his destructive behavior.
The FBI finds out about the chase, and counter-terror agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) senses Cris's unique ability. She wants him to help stop a nuclear bomb threat from a terrorist group. Cris realizes if he submits to her request, his life will never be his own again.
While hiding from the FBI at a diner, a beautiful woman (Jessica Biel) walks in and Cris knows instantly she's the one. There's little detail about this revelation, but apparently from an early age he's known there was one woman for him and when he bonds with her, she'll enable him to see the future longer than two minutes.
An amusing scene using CG unfolds as Cris goes through a set of scenarios in his future mind to see which one works to pick up Liz (Biel). Then he foils an ex who barges in and tries to get rough with her. Soon Liz is giving Cris a ride to Arizona, and they end up in bed. But hotter than their new passion is the FBI's pursuit.
Nicolas Cafe, Jesica Biel
The Russian terrorists show up and kidnap Liz and Cris goes through a John Wayne escape to avoid the FBI, only to find out he has to help them in order to save Liz's life. All the while the clock is ticking for the bomb to explode in Los Angeles.
There's not a lot of great acting in Next. Jessica Biel looks scrumptious, but I've seen more excitement and commitment at a Tupperware party. She's certainly missing the intensity she held throughout The Illusionist. Moore (Children of Men) is even worse. Her role feels like she stepped out of a car, read her script lines, did a scene before the camera and got back in the car. She never feels believable for a moment.
On the plus side, Cage (Ghost Rider) effectively brings his character to life infusing Cris with a mystique that’s never formulaic. His character’s desire and concern for Liz seems deep and sincere. When Cage read the script, he liked the aspects of working in a new genre. “I read it and thought it was a very original and heartfelt adventure film. I was interested in a man who appears to be average and normal, but who was born with a gift of being able to see two minutes into his own future," said Cage. "This also was a different genre for me because it’s not science fiction. It’s paranormal. So there are no electronic gizmos or futuristic backdrops. And Cris’s ‘precogging’ and the unique way he thinks is a marvelous playing field for an actor.”
The screenplay was written by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum with a screen story by Goldman. Interestingly, Cage was able to bring some of his own ideas to the story that seem very significant to the plot. It was his idea that Cris be a magician. “I thought it would make him more believable,” says Cage. “Because if a man was born with these precognitive powers, he would stand the chance of being ostracized, considered a freak or an alien. And he would probably scare people. So he’d want to hide that fact and the best way to do it is to hide in plain sight; to mask it within the guise of being a magician.”
Cage also suggested that his wife Alice, who had not acted before, play the short scene of a woman who comes up from the audience to be part of his magic show.
I enjoyed the first half of Next where we meet the characters and learn about the plot more than the rest of the film which is fast-paced and includes more action and gunplay. With movies like Once Were Warriors, Die Another Day and xXx: State of the Union, it was not a stretch for director Lee Tamahori to handle the action and terrorist aspects of the film. I'm not sure, however, how much of Moore and Biel's poor performances are related to his direction.
Nicolas Cafe, Jesica Biel, Julianne Moore
There are a few rough spots in the story, and the ending has a surprising twist. Listening to some of the moviegoers on the way out of the theater complain about that twist being a rip-off, I realized they probably didn’t understand it. As Cris says in a voiceover near the end, "Here’s the thing about the future, every time you look at it, it changes, and because you looked at it, that changes everything else." If you take this explanation and think back to key moments in the film, it makes perfect sense. I liked the surprise twist and found Next very entertaining.
Photo credits: Joseph Lederer/ Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios