“Next”, the latest cinematic bon-bon from Nicholas Cage, is not a great movie, but it is a pleasant diversion, and suitable bargain matinee material. It’s also fun to see Cage’s latest bad toupee.
Cris (Cage), using the stage name Frank Cadillac, performs cheap tricks in a run down Las Vegas nightclub, under a stage name, to hide his real talent. He is certain that if the government, the ‘enemy’, anyone, discover the nature of this talent, he will lose his freedom and be forced to work for them in order to live. His talent? He can see the future. Granted, he can only see about two minutes into the future, but this is still a valuable skill. There is only one problem. The government already knows he has this power. Callie Farris (Julianne Moore), an FBI agent, has learned that a nuclear bomb missing from the Russian Federation is on its way to America and wants, needs Cris to help them determine when and where it will go off. But Cris has dreams of a beautiful young lady, Liz (Jessica Biel) in a diner and shows up every day, determined to meet her. When Cris finally does meet Liz, he conspires to get her to take him to Flagstaff, because he knows she is headed there. Naturally, Farris and her arsenal of FBI employees are hot on their heels. Oh, and the terrorists, led by Mr. Smith (Thomas Kretschmann, “King Kong”) know about Cris as well and want to stop him, because they know he can foil their plans.
“Next”, directed by Lee Tamahori (“Once Were Warriors”, “Die Another Day”) and based on a story by Philip K. Dick (who wrote the story that would become “Bladerunner”), takes a completely implausible premise (with more than a few plot holes – how do the terrorists know about Cris?) and makes it an enjoyable piece of fluff to help while away a few hours. Actually, scratch that. An enjoyable piece of fluff to while away 100 minutes. This is one of the reasons “Next” was more enjoyable than I had any right to expect. It was relatively short for a film in this genre, most run two hours or longer, so it kept the action moving.
Cris is introduced doing his two-bit magic act at a rundown lounge in a rundown casino in downtown Vegas. He uses a stage name, Frank Cadillac, and gets paid in cash, all in an effort to stay off the radar. To earn extra money, he uses his skill at the tables, earning just enough to make some good cash and not attract any attention. Yet, the casino security people are watching Cris. Even as Cris says he is trying to stay under the radar, he seems to know the casino is watching him. Does he have premonitions as well? He knows that as soon as his ability is revealed, his freedom will be jeopardized, so he tries to stay low key. Naturally, this doesn’t work for long. Farris and her assistant are in the audience watching the show. And everyone seems to realize there is a limitation to Cris’ ability.
This is another of Cage’s one-note performances. Throughout the entire film, he seems to be grimacing (in pain? shock?), his face blank and his eyes vacant. But this sort of works for Cris. He is always looking into the future, and these images seem to dull his opinion of the world. Also, he is fairly certain that if his ability is revealed, he will end up in a padded room under observation, so he has to remain fairly low-key.
It’s sad that the most interesting thing about Cage’s performances, lately, is anticipating how bad his toupee will look. In “Next”, he has longer hair, slightly greasy looking, which fits his character well, but still looks exceedingly fake.
Because Cris can only see a few minutes into the future, he has fairly limited ability, yet he is able to use this ability to elude pursuers. And this leads to some interesting action scenes. As Cris engages in foot chases or a car chase, he is always able to make the right move, at the right moment, to elude his attackers. This helps to explain his almost ‘super human’ ability to stay out of harm’s way. Particularly impressive is how he ducks and weaves, much like a martial arts expert, to elude punches, bullets, falling logs, etc.
But this same ‘two minute rule’ leads to the biggest plot hole in the film. Moore’s Farris wants Cris’ help to locate the stolen nuclear weapon. When Cris finally agrees to help Farris, she plants him in a medical chair in a concrete room wearing glasses that prop his eyes open. Someone wearing a medical jacket puts some drops in his eyes and he can suddenly see further than two minutes into the future. Huh? Actually, in the beginning of the film, he has dreams of Liz (Biel) showing up at a diner at a specific time on a day, yet he doesn’t know which day. Clearly, he is already seeing a few days into the future, so this becomes a sloppy plot point, a huge hole in the story. Why is he suddenly able to see further into the future than he was previously? To give the filmmakers more latitude with the story? The filmmakers created this universe; if they needed Cris to be able to see further into the future, make his skills more ambiguous in the first place. Don’t simply change the rules after they are established.
I think we were supposed to forget about the vision of Liz once Cris has established contact with her. Biel’s character then simply becomes a damsel in distress.
Julianne Moore is fine, but unexceptional as Farris. Throughout, she remains steely and determined to find the nuclear weapon, no matter what the cost. Because of this, she shows little emotion when some of her team members die in the line of duty. See, she is trying to prevent a bigger loss (millions of innocent people are at risk. Millions!), so the loss of a couple of team members is a small price to pay.
Why is Julianne Moore taking roles in films like “Next”? This is essentially the same type of role she played in “Children of Men” (a much better film) to lesser effect here. This is the role Alec Baldwin or Danny Glover generally walk through when they are simply collecting a paycheck. Has Moore really been reduced to that? Collecting paychecks? Julianne, hold out for better roles. If you aren’t careful one of the television networks will soon be announcing the premiere of your new television series.
The one good thing about her character is she trusts Cris’ vision and stops when he tells her too, orders her underlings to pay attention to the two-bit magician, and more. She takes his ability seriously and it helps save her life more than once. So often, people second guess the heroes ability repeatedly, despite evidence to the contrary.
Jessica Biel continues her quest to perfect the ‘pretty damsel in distress’ role, the type of role where the character becomes little more than a damsel in distress. As the girl in Cris’ vision, she is his ideal of the perfect woman. But since we know Cris has seen her, and he can see in the future, he will no doubt do exactly what is required to win her love and admiration, which isn’t much. It seems they are in bed together fairly soon after meeting. But of course, this helps to make her a more important pawn in the story; the villains can use her now that Cris has fallen in love with her.
Peter Falk even pops up and totters around for a few minutes. What connection his character has to the story is unclear; he seems to be some sort of mentor to Cris’ character. But after the action gets going, we never see or here from him again.
The best thing about “Next” is the action sequences and Cris’ ability to be able to weave through them without harm. Particularly impressive is a chase down a hillside involving many different items careening down the slope after our heroes and the villains, logs, trucks, boulders. They even manage to throw a huge stagecoach into the mix, sort of like throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure.
The ending has an interesting plot twist. On the one hand, it piques my interest. On the other, it almost seems like the filmmakers ran out of money and had to simply end the film. But Tamahori does this with more skill than I am describing. If I went into too much detail, it would spoil it.
“Next” is a better film than I was expecting, and I wasn’t expecting much. That said, it is a fun bargain matinee for action junkies who won’t mind or notice the plot holes. Although they are as huge as the Grand Canyon, which also makes an appearance in the film.