NEXT is a lackluster bit of nothing that fails to work up much interest in itself, much less in the audience unfortunate enough to be watching it. Based on an excellent story, “The Golden Man”, by Phillip K. Dick, this adaptation by ary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Paul Bernbaum gut what is best in Dick’s writing and leave behind a dry husk that makes little sense on any level, including the one that concerns why someone thought this would be a good idea.
One of those someones is Nicolas Cage, who stars at Frank Cadillac/ Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas magician and mentalist with a bad act in one of the lesser rooms. The thing about Frank/Cris, though, is that while the prestidigitation is just that, the clairvoyance is real. His particular talent is that he can see into the future. The catch is that it’s only two minutes into the future. Good for an act that doesn’t quite pay his bills, even better for playing the gaming tables at casinos to make up the shortfall. He’s smart enough to keep that small-time, so as to not attract the attention of the casino detectives. Mostly. One fateful night, he not only arouses suspicions about why he’s winning so consistently, he also stops a robbery before it happens, is mistaken for the gunman, and then steals a car to get away. The two-minute warning is helpful in eluding the casino guards and the cops when they give chase, but not so helpful when it comes to the shadowy government group planning on using him to track down a stray nuke.
That’s the brainstorm of Agent Ferris (Julianne Moore), the gun-happy proto-fascist who believes in her heart of hearts that Frank/Cris is the key to finding that nuke, even though it’s been missing for a long, long time. Why she thinks that two-minute warning would help is as murky as why she thinks the nuke is about to be set off somewhere heavily populated by the people who stole it. Oh, and there are the terrorists, a piquant mix of Russians and Frenchies who are out to kill Frank/Cris just because the Feds want him.
Added to this heady brew of nonsense is the one exception to Frank/Cris’ two-minute limit. That would be for the woman (Jessica Biel) he’s been seeing for years in his visions. She will one day walk into a coffee shop a few minutes after 8. Morning or evening, he doesn’t know, so he plants himself at the counter, with a two-olive martini, and waits. Ordinarily, I’d carp about the martini, but this is Vegas and why would’t a coffee shop serve martinis, two-olive or other, at all hours?
In Dick’s world of looming paranoia that is more a reasonable reaction to the world than a mental disorder, none of this would matter. The point of the story is an examination of more than the action at hand. Certainly, the film begins and ends with Cage droning the central premise, that looking into the future changes it. Instead of focusing on the unreliability of reality and the endless malleability of time, it attempts to wrestle an action flick out of the source material and fails. Sure, there are the slick moves Frank/Cris displays dodging bullets, punches, and flying automobiles that he’s already seen coming, but a muddled through story, and Cage’s impersonation of a zombie with Tom Hanks’ hair from THE DA VINCI CODE sucks any joy from that right out into the ionosphere. All the quirkiness has disappeared into a stupor. It only gets worse when he shares an all too brief scene with Peter Falk, whose crackling impishness livens things up more than any of the explosions or shootouts that follow. The nadir comes when Cage is called upon to emote the look of love and instead does a dead-on impersonation of a stunned gopher.
NEXT is an excellent example of the dumbing down of the culture at large. Instead of a complex film with something to say about perception, reality, and free-will, things blow things up real good. And leave behind wreckage of many sorts.