All his life, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) has had the extraordinary ability to see into the future. It's a gift that has paved the way for his career as a Las Vegas magician known as Frank Cadillac, but there are limitations. More precisely, Cris can only tell what is to happen within the next two minutes, using this knowledge into the immediate future to reconstruct for the better events about to occur. Enter government agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), who believes Cris may hold the answers in being able to locate a nuclear bomb planted somewhere in Southern California before it detonates. As Callie actively pursues him and the terror threat rises, Cris takes off for Flagstaff, sharing a ride with a beautiful teacher named Liz (Jessica Biel) that he meets in a coffee shop. For reasons that he does not know, her future is the only one he can foresee more deeply into than two minutes.
Based on the novella "The Golden Man" by prolific science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, "Next" has been modernized and retooled by director Lee Tamahori (2005's "xXx: State of the Union
") and screenwriters Gary Goldman (1990's "Total Recall"), Jonathan Hensleigh (2004's "The Punisher
") and Paul Bernbaum (2006's "Hollywoodland
") to appease an action-hungry audience. As such, there are a few adrenalized moments of real excitement, none more than during a taut, meticulously choreographed set-piece set on a steep mountain incline. Shooting locations are also noteworthy, from the glittering nighttime streets of Las Vegas to the cliffs of the Grand Canyon. The latter includes one ingenious shot, as Cris and Liz nonchalantly talk while appearing to walking full-speed toward the edge of the canyon. As the camera rises, stairs are revealed below them at the fateful last second.
Technically, "Next" is of a high caliber. Its downfall is a far-fetched story that runs in circles, toying with the audience just because it can. The genesis of Cris' special abilities is never explained, making a point that because he can see what is to happen in his future, he thereby can also change it. Director Lee Tamahori goes hog-wild in fooling the viewer so that one is never quite sure if what they are seeing is Cris' initial vision or the reality of what is to come. Either way, a great deal of possible tension becomes moot because he is able to twist fate, sending his life and those around him out of the grave danger they otherwise would seem to be in. This deficient urgency turns a plot involving an impending cataclysmic disaster into one that feels both frivolous and aimless.
There isn't much to criticize about Nicolas Cage's (2007's "Ghost Rider
") performance as Cris Johnson other than his recent nagging tendency to play the same character over and overthat of a relatively virtuous guy offset by internal demons. His best scenes are the ones he shares with Jessica Biel (2006's "The Illusionist
"), as love interest Liz. Biel is like a ball of light in every film she makes, especially accessible here because she gets to play the most down-to-earth and likable of all the central figures. Setting up a meaningful romance between Cris and Liz is a tall order since they only have a period of twenty-four hours to meet and start to fall in love, but the natural chemistry between Cage and Biel allows them to pull it off. As Agent Callie Ferris, Julianne Moore (2006's "Children of Men
") is plausible in her role, but it's a dry and two-dimensional one that isn't equal to her range of abilities. Finally, Thomas Kretschmann (2005's "King Kong
") is bland and forgettable as head villain Mr. Smith, leader of the terrorist group.
"Next" concludes with a major twist that won't be revealed here. It is certainly a shockerat the screening I attended, it was met with an uproarious collective gasp from the audiencebut also thoroughly unsatisfying once the novelty of the surprise subsides. Suffice it to say, watching the movie will be virtually useless after the first viewing, and the lack of a clear-cut resolution isn't nearly as clever as it wants to be. In fact, the ending approaches being a frustrating cheat. Slickly produced but much ado about nothing, "Next" keeps one's interest, only to laugh in your face for caring.