Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas
Kretschmann, Tory Kittles. Rated PG-13.
Step aside, Jack Bauer. Meet Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage),
Vegas magician whose clairvoyance is no parlor trick. That’s right, Cris, the
hero of director Lee Tamahori’s Next, can see exactly two minutes into his
own future, an ability he passes off as illusionist shtick to avoid scrutiny.
But lately, Cris has been having visions of a beautiful stranger, a woman whose
future is clearly mapped out in his mind. He resolves to find her, because
maybe she’s “the one.”
The stranger turns out to be Liz (Jessica Biel), a
schoolteacher with a heart of gold and a dangerously possessive ex-boyfriend.
Having foreseen their initial encounter, Cris finds her at a roadside diner,
dutifully allows her ex to manhandle him, and accepts her sympathy in the form
of a ride to Flagstaff. They become fast friends, and it seems inevitable that
romance will follow.
There’s only one problem. Cris is wanted by the FBI, not
because he’s committed any serious crimes – though he does have a pesky habit
of stealing cars – but because their top field agent (Julianne Moore) believes
he can prevent the detonation of a nuclear device on U.S. soil. (By whom? The
Russians, of course!) It’s not entirely clear why the FBI believes Cris can
help, since his foresight is so limited and self-absorbed, but they devote all
their resources to finding him. Not wanting to become a government guinea pig,
Cris makes himself scarce.
If this sounds like an episode of 24 with an added touch
of the absurd, you’re not far off. It is based, however loosely, on a short
story by Philip K. Dick, whose paranoid fantasies inspired Minority Report
and Total Recall, among others. Not since 2003’s Paycheck have Dick’s
writings been put to sillier use, though Next is rarely dull. Its premise is
promising, and there are moments of rare elegance that transcend a script
riddled with holes big enough to drive the entire plot through. In the end, one
can’t help but think that a fresher, more intelligent movie could have been
made about Cris and his unique condition, without all the usual nonsense about
terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.
Next has a surprise ending, and the biggest surprise
that it actually works. It’s a richly satisfying payoff, and it makes you want
to forgive the movie its mindless self-indulgences – but not quite. By the
slightest of margins, and despite typically solid contributions from Moore and
Biel, Next misses its mark, lacking the vision to rank with the best
adaptations of Dick’s high-minded fiction.