Next (2007)

- by John Bruni

Next, starring Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel opens very promisingly with a casino robbery and chase scene early in the film. Next falls within the genre of clairvoyance thrillers: main character Cris Johnson (Cage) can see 2 minutes into the future and much further when romance interest Liz Cooper (Biel) is involved. There’s more than a little Groundhog Day in Next, but unlike the Bill Murray film, Next isn’t coherent. Stars like Nicholas Cage fail to save it – he comes off as woodenly one-dimensional – and the same is true for Moore and Biel. Peter Falk plays the most appealing character in the film but regrettably appears only in a cameo role. Next is based upon The Golden Man, a short story by Philip K. Dick, but little if any of Dick’s seminal themes make it into the movie. There is, for example, no examination of what it means for Cris to be human with superhuman abilities, and there is no deep look at the nature of reality although the film does twist it around.

Cris works as a cheesy Vegas magician in an attempt to hide his true ability. He supplements his income by hitting the occasional slot machine when he sees one about to pay off. Despite playing things very low key, he attracts the attention of the FBI and a group of terrorists. Agent Callie Ferris (Moore) pursues him in hopes he can find a nuclear weapon planted by the terrorists somewhere in the United States. Very little is done to explain why the terrorists have the bomb or why they want to detonate it, and very little is done to explain why the FBI and the terrorists are both aware of Cris. Presumably there would be a great deal more interest from the government in recovering a rogue nuke, but no, only a small team of FBI agents are involved rather than the thousands of people and multiple intelligence agencies one would expect for an incident of this magnitude.

All the main actors seem to be there just to punch a time clock. Julianne Moore’s bored look wears thin rapidly. Biel looks confused, but at least she has reason to be, as do the viewers of this film. Director Lee Tamahori does shoot some interesting action scenes. He is noted for a solid documentary on Maori warriors, and he directed Die Another Day, a painfully boring Bond film where the cars are more interesting than the characters. Whether this can be blamed on Tamahori is questionable, and the same goes for Next. Even a seasoned director can only do so much with a defective script.

Cris shows up every morning at a diner waiting for Liz to appear (he’s seen her in a vision there but for some reason can’t pick up a newspaper to tell what day she arrives). Akin to Groundhog Day, when she shows up he visualizes several different ways to hit on her before finding one that works. Improbably, after enduring a stalker from whom Cris endures a punch in the face to win her sympathy, Liz agrees to let Cris tag along with her to an Indian reservation. Also improbably, they end up in bed. The irony of one stalker being outmaneuvered by another stalker goes unnoticed, along with a complete lack of chemistry between Cris and Liz. Were the filmmakers paying attention when they shot and edited this film? At one point Cage completely blows a joke about a Zen master ordering a hot dog, and the mistake is left in the film. Instead of the Zen master saying, “Make me one with everything,” Cage has him saying he’d “have one with everything,” a mistake that evokes a “huh?” from everyone who has seen it since.

Cris dodges the FBI and the terrorists, both of whom quickly catch up to him at a motel where he and Liz spend the night. Cris flees after Agent Ferris tries to get Liz to drug his morning coffee – she fails to convince Liz he’s a wanted psychopath – but he ends up captured after rescuing Ferris when he foresees her death. He’s strapped to a chair with his eyelids clamped open and forced to watch TELEVISION, in hopes that he will have a vision of the bomb. Why radio or a newspaper wouldn’t be sufficient is not specified. He escapes. Exhibiting the ability to dodge bullets, Matrix-style, by seeing them ahead of time, he rescues Liz after the terrorists kidnap her. Much of the movie transpires before Cris realizes he’s chosen the wrong path. The bomb goes off; L.A. is vaporized along with all the characters in the movie, and then we see that Cris is just visualizing all this. The film returns to the motel; he’s never left the room. Vaporizing L.A. might have been a better ending.

The movie trundles onward – Cris makes a deal with Ferris and – well, let’s leave a little of the plot unrevealed, skimpy though it may be. Cris’ abilities morph inexplicably during a shootout, and to be fair the scene is a good one. Cris sends himself in myriad different directions simultaneously to find a safe route into the terrorist’s lair. It’s an interesting effect, pretty much the most memorable part of the film. As mentioned, there’s very little of author Philip K. Dick’s original story in this film. It might have been better if screenwriter Gary Goldman (who wrote superior screenplays for Total Recall and Paycheck) scripted something closer to Dick’s story. In The Golden Man, Cris is a post-apocalyptic mutant who is hunted for extermination by normal humans. Apparently Goldman had no confidence in his ability to flesh out a screenplay from Dick’s taut writing. Unlike Cris Johnson, who could have visualized a better script, we’ll never know what might have been. Next is mildly entertaining but nothing like some of the other films made from Philip K. Dick stories.

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