Oh, there's no doubt here; "Next" is as idiotic a high-tech thriller as one could probably imagine. However, there's this irksome playfulness to the whole production that I really took a shine to. It's an awful film, but I couldn't bother to be bored with a creation this fixated on entertaining.
Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) was born with the amazing mental gift to be able to see two minutes into the future and explore every possible outcome of his actions. Haunted by this power, Cris lives a simple life as a magician in Las Vegas trying to keep out of harm's way. When the American government gets wind that a terrorist group is planning to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) looks to capture Cris and use him to help thwart disaster, shoving the reclusive man and his newfound lady love (Jessica Biel) into the enemy's crosshairs.
I can't sit here and try to pretend that "Next" adds up to anything of value. It's a perfect DVD diversion for a rainy Saturday afternoon body stuffed with food and drink; sci-fi as seen by Hollywood's most comfortable hacks and it's all just so unreasonably goofy. The credits list Philip K. Dick as the source material, but come on. With Nicolas Cage in Tom Hanks "Da Vinci Code" hair running around checking out his future options while wearing a mustard yellow leather jacket and ogling Jessica Biel...I think the Dick has been thoroughly stamped out of the equation.
Director Lee Tamahori has made an iffy career out of vanilla action spectacles; either he nails 'em ("Die Another Day") or he fails on a grand scale ("XXX: State of the Union"). "Next" is his most tempered of efforts. There's nothing about the film that screams "bonecrushing adrenaline rush!" "Next" is far more intimate than that. It's almost a psychological thrill ride, putting the audience into Cris's head as he sorts through all the possible conclusions to his actions. I like the reserve Tamahori shows here. It's not a competent piece of directing, but it's a serviceable one that, for better or worse, always has its eye on a perky pace and the occasional bubble-gum snap of amusement.
Also weirdly muted is Nicolas Cage, who turns Cris into a solemn soul, burdened with some serious TMI and conditioner issues. The actor is sweet and friendly as the mentalist, looking for more tender ways to react to Biel's hypnotic good looks, and only turning on the Cage afterburners during the Vegas magician sequences. However, Cage can't compare to Julianne Moore, who always takes the offer to butch up for a role with the utmost seriousness. The actress is a hoot running around picking off bad guys, barking orders to a horde of armed officials, and squintily trying to reason with Cris. I'm thinking Moore was the only one on set who knew what type of movie "Next" really was going to be.
I don't know if you can call what happens in the final 10 minutes of "Next" to be a cheat, but it certainly looks like it booked passage to that aesthetic. After watching Cris dodge bullets, logs, and cars while trying to survive, the twist ending might come as a total cop-out to some. Tonally, it makes sense and it fits Cris if you avoid thinking about it too hard, but "Next" is a feature that should've gorgeously flamed out, not grown a brain at the last possible moment.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com